WAG's move paves way for summer amphitheatre 

Village site long slated for arts, culture venue, but no commitment yet

As Whistler Animals Galore settles into its new shelter this month, thoughts have turned to the future of the valuable piece of land which WAG has long called home.

The land is between Lot 3 and Lot 4 in the day skier parking lots. For years it has been slated to be an extension of Village Park; more specifically, it is planned to be the site of an outdoor theatre, which would showcase music, arts and culture in Whistler.

"It's been designated as a site where we would develop a summer amphitheatre," explained Kevin McFarland, municipal parks planner. "I think we're all looking forward to what the form might take and what it could add to the village. I think it'll be quite an exciting piece of the puzzle."

An amphitheatre traditionally is a venue where the seats rise in tiers around a central open space.

"The desire was to have just another type of experience where events (and) music could be staged outdoors," adds McFarland.

While the project isn't in the work plan for the upcoming year, it did appear in last year's Five Year Financial Plan. That plan shows a budget of $600,000 for the summer amphitheatre. Surveys and pre-design are to take place in 2008 with a budget of $30,000 proposed.

The land is in the flood control area and as such, it lends itself well to an outdoor theatre use in much the same way as it works well as a skateboard park.

McFarland said the municipality has not investigated the finer details of the project, such as capacity and size and design. However, he has done some background research on the nature of amphitheatres.

Some, such as the Hollywood Bowl, are big sites which have been cleared of everything just to hold the theatre. Others incorporate some natural elements such as the trees. Whistler would consider the latter.

"(The land has) some nice feature, lots of nice trees that we would seek to integrate into the summer amphitheatre," said McFarland.

The possibilities of this new outdoor venue came up recently in the Arts, Culture and Heritage task force for Whistler 2020 (formerly the Comprehensive Sustainability Plan). There are 16 different task forces at work right now where community members are hashing out details to move the resort towards 2020 in a sustainable manner.

McFarland, who sits on the task force, said the idea of a summer theatre piqued the interest of task force members at the meeting.

"To get another type of venue is definitely something that people found appealing and it does lend itself to programs in advance of 2010," he said.

The development of the theatre was always contingent on the relocation of the animal shelter and the vehicle impound lot. WAG is moving to Nesters Road this month, which solves one piece of the puzzle.

"Getting the shelter sorted out really does make it much more (realistic) – you can see it happening," said McFarland.

The site also houses a municipal maintenance shop and there are no plans to move that even if a theatre goes on site.

"You really do need to have these kind of satellite shops for something major like the village rather than consolidate everything at the Public Works Yard," he added.

McFarland could not say whether the summer amphitheatre project would be a part of the 2005 Five Year Financial Plan, which is expected to come before council on Monday.

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