Renovated conference centre to open ahead of schedule 

New business booked for fall

Everything has clicked during renovations of the Whistler Conference Centre this winter, which means the facility will re-open nearly two months ahead of schedule, on Aug. 7.

"The project has been a best case scenario from the beginning, from the good weather through the winter to an efficient construction team," said Doug Stackhouse, director of facility and event operations for Tourism Whistler.

"We have made excellent progress and will open ahead of our original target date of Oct. 1, 2003."

The conference centre closed last October for the first phase of a two-phase renovation. The $9 million first phase is being funded by Tourism Whistler and the municipality. The municipality’s $4.5 contribution is coming from the hotel tax reserve, while Tourism Whistler’s portion is coming from a combination of cash reserves and debt financing.

Interior work has progressed well with deconstruction, concrete and structural steel framing complete, while the new entranceway and roof replacement will continue through April and May, followed by interior finishings.

Tourism Whistler will host meeting planners, media and other guests to celebrate the opening Aug. 7-10, and will hold a grand opening party on Aug. 8, 2003.

"The earlier we can start to show the new signature facility to meeting planners, the sooner we can secure additional new business to the resort, building on conference groups already booked through 2005," said Lynda Gilroy, director of meetings and incentives experience for Tourism Whistler.

Eight groups of 4,000 room nights have been confirmed for October through December 2003, with more room nights anticipated. To date, a total of 35 groups representing 38,000 room nights are in the works for 2004, projected to increase to 48,000 room nights. The International Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus estimates that each conference delegate typically spends $264 per day while meeting in a destination.

In 2001, the Whistler Conference Centre generated 32,000 room nights, and generated $18.5 million to Whistler. Tourism Whistler estimates that the renovation will result in a 50 per cent increase in room nights generated by 2004, with 48,000 room nights representing a $25 million direct economic impact.

Throughout 2003, Tourism Whistler is working on confirming more than 40,000 room nights of new business for 2005 and beyond that would represent an economic impact of $21 million and materialize into a solid foundation of business to build upon over the coming years.

The phase 1 renovations include:

• Increased ballroom capacity, from the current 1,600 people, to 2,000 people;

• Total ballroom square footage increased from 13,600 square feet to 16,500 square feet;

• Overall size increase from a 40,000-square-foot to a 65,000-square-foot facility with rentable meeting space increasing from 25,000 square feet to 40,000 square feet;

• 8,700 square feet of pre-function space;

• An increased capacity for meeting room breakout space, from 500 people currently, to more than 1,000 people post-renovation in 14 breakout rooms;

• A new enclosed glass conservatory with mountain views for banquets of up to 120 people;

• 300 seat amphitheatre;

• Additional meeting rooms and efficient pre-function areas that will allow up to five groups to meet simultaneously;

• A new entranceway that will provide significant pre-function capacity, showcasing a 12-metre-tall zero-emission wood-burning Rumford fireplace;

• A new roof;

• Enhanced telecommunications capabilities, as well as a new business centre;

• Increased washroom facilities and a coatroom;

• Overall aesthetic upgrades, creating a West Coast design theme with wood and glass features;

• Raised roof lines and skylights to allow more natural light and views to Blackcomb and Whistler Mountains;

• Improved entry and exit areas.

There is no date for the second phase of improvements, which have a price tag of $13 million, because funding has not yet been secured. Tourism Whistler and the municipality are pursuing funding options.

Phase II renovations will take approximately one year and would require occasional shutdowns, but for the most part could be done without closing the facility.

Phase II renovations will include:

• additional ballroom capacity to accommodate up to 2,600 delegates;

• Additional meeting room capacity, with total rentable space increasing from 40,000 in Phase I to 53,000 in Phase II;

• A new 3,900-square-foot executive meeting space with 925 square feet of pre-function area;

• Replacement of mechanical and electrical systems with efficient, "green" systems;

• Water conservation system;

• Sophisticated building management system;

• Relocated administrative offices.

The Whistler Conference Centre officially opened in 1985. The building was originally designed for a multi-purpose recreation centre, including an Olympic-sized ice rink. The design was reworked by WLC Developments, a crown corporation which stepped in when the municipality was on the verge of bankruptcy in 1983, and the building was converted to a conference centre.

WLC Developments owned the conference centre up until 1989 when it was returned to the municipality, which continues to own the facility. Tourism Whistler operates the Whistler Conference Centre.

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