No artisan market for Olympic Plaza in 2012 

Consultation with local merchants needed before pilot market can be tested, says mayor

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Whistler's mayor says the planned artisan market for Olympic Plaza has been cancelled for 2012 while consultations take place with surrounding storeowners about the proposal's impact on their bottom lines.

"It's not going to go ahead this year. It is cancelled," said Nancy Wilhelm-Morden. "We're revisiting it completely. We need to go back to the FE&A (the Festivals, Events and Animation program organizers), both the working group and the oversight committee... And, of course, we need to speak to the merchants."

Wilhelm-Morden said she didn't know if storeowners had originally been consulted about the artisan market. FE&A organizers include Tourism Whistler, the Whistler Arts Council and the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW).

"But there has been discussion about an artisan's market in Whistler over the years and certainly specifically about Olympic Plaza, but what needs to occur is a policy framework for that and that is the process being set up now."

Jim Davidson, the owner of the Whistler Village Art Gallery, outlined his concerns in a letter to Pique. He said participating artisans "will enjoy the ability to sell their wares at a tiny fraction of the costs that Whistler retailers pay," creating a new class of retailers subsidized by the municipality.

"This new outdoor retail venue will place the arts council and municipality in direct competition with approximately 10 commercial art galleries in Whistler and numerous other retailers who sell crafts and other products made by artisans."

He added that he was paying $190,000 in rent to landlords for three leases, including $24,000 in property taxes to the RMOW, at a time when merchants were already suffering in a difficult economic climate.

"Our business had its worst summer season in over 10 years due in large part to much pedestrian visitor traffic being drawn towards Olympic Plaza away from the old village stroll," he said.

Wilhelm-Morden said Davidson's letter was one of the reasons the RMOW stepped back from proceeding with the market.

"Yes, I received a copy of that email and a couple of others before they were published in the newspapers and that's when I first became aware of it, so we had a discussion internally and we decided that we needed to revisit the idea," she said.

The 2012 FE&A program launched in May and is to run throughout the remainder of the year with the majority of the programming taking place from July through September. This includes a summer concert series, including performances by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, as well as animation such as Fire & Ice, stargazing and Olympic programming to mark the 2012 Summer Games in London, along with a full Canada Day celebration.

The artisan's market was meant to be central to this as a six-day pilot project.

Kelly Oswald owns The Oracle at Whistler, next to the Olympic Plaza. She supported the artisan market proposal.

"Add a market and you've got more people. Anytime there is an event we're busy," she said. "I'd love it if they bring the artisan's market closer to where we are. The more people you have in your area, the more likely it would be that they would visit your store. I'm all for sharing the volume!"

Oswald said she hadn't been consulted about the impact the market would have and supported FE&A revisiting the plan.

"All the merchants pay taxes and rent, so there is all that to be considered, but I feel that way with any market. It does take away from business but it also brings business. On a Sunday, when the farmer's market is in the Upper Market, we notice a big difference in our day because everybody's up there. Our sales go down."

But there was also the element of supporting Whistler artists and craftsmen.

"I think it's nice to support our local people. For me, I say no a lot of the time to artists because the mark up for me, the profit margin (is too low)... and it doesn't really pay rent. We have so much talent in Whistler and it's good to see it out there, and it's only for the summer," she said.

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