As the holiday season approaches, on behalf of Whistler council, I would like to extend our best wishes to our residents, visitors, and community partners for a safe and happy holiday season.
As we prepare for the holidays and the year ahead, it is important to take a step back and look at all we’ve accomplished.
In 2012, council focused the first year of our term on improving fiscal accountability and budget management. In 2013, council took the time to undertake an in-depth analysis of key issues facing the community. In its third year, the major focus will be taking action.
Let’s take a look at some of the highlights from 2013.
For the second year in a row, council passed a budget with a zero per cent property tax increase in 2013. We have begun the 2014 budget process and are committed to sharing information and updates and providing opportunities for community members to discuss the budget with members of staff and council in 2014.
In the spring, council adopted the updated Official Community Plan (OCP) that will guide Whistler’s next phase of evolution as a maturing resort community, focusing on enhancement and optimization of existing and approved land use and development.
In 2013, significant planning work by staff and committees of council was concluded including the findings of the Learning and Education Task Force, the Whistler Community Cultural Plan, the Recreation and Leisure Master Plan and the recently completed Economic Partnership Initiative work. The four reports work together and provide a strong foundation for ongoing community planning, including input into the 2014 municipal budget process and work plans. The Economic Partnership Initiative Committee’s Summary of Key Findings Report includes approximately 60 action items with various stakeholder leads, funding, and timelines ranging from immediate to 24 months.
The resort has increased the focus on the development and support of cultural tourism as it has the possibility of becoming one of Whistler’s competitive advantages building on our current position as a top mountain recreation destination and helping achieve our economic sustainability and success as a resort.
The municipality is supporting cultural tourism through various programs and initiatives including the Festival, Events and Animation (FE&A) program, which in 2013, encompassed original programming, augmented programming, and animation. The Whistler Presents: Summer Concert Series was a highlight with summer programming featuring an expanded Vancouver Symphony Orchestra program and a 12-day Whistler Presents Concert Series at Whistler Olympic Plaza.
The 2013 summer season was one of the busiest on record in terms of room nights. FE&A concerts and animation, as well as events like Tough Mudder, IRONMAN, Wanderlust, Crankworx and GranFondo helped drive summer business. Recovering leisure travel demand, and good weather boosted summer performance. We are well positioned for a great winter following a game-changing summer season.
Also consistent with long-term plans to build cultural tourism in Whistler, in 2013, the Audain Art Museum became a reality for our community. Moving the project from concept to ground-breaking has remarkably taken less than a year. Construction began in September 2013 with plans to open the Audain Art Museum in the summer of 2015.
A few other highlights from 2013 included the opening of two new community parks: Florence Petersen Park in the Village and Bayly Park in Cheakamus Crossing. We were delighted to honour the memory of long-time resident and historian Florence Petersen with this beautiful park right in the heart of the Village. Families living and visiting Cheakamus Crossing now have a new place to swing, slide and climb with the opening of Bayly Park this past summer. This playground and the other amenities at Bayly Park are a direct legacy of the 2010 Winter Games and will benefit the Whistler community and visitors for years to come.
This past summer we also moved forward with the municipality’s first-ever Solid Waste Management Strategy, which will save the municipality more than $400,000 per year on solid waste costs by 2020.
We also made progress in a variety of other areas including the Rainbow Litigation settlement, Whistler Library Sunday openings, progress on the Illegal Space issue, changes to liquor laws and effective transit changes with improved services and options for affordable transit while keeping in line with Whistler’s transportation objectives.
And building on the organizational streamlining in 2012, we also completed reasonable wage settlements with municipal staff in 2013.
Looking ahead, your municipal government will continue to work toward supporting a successful resort community with a focus on fostering strong resort partnerships, quality programs and services, and continued investment and re-investment into municipal infrastructure, parks, trails and programs to support long-term goals.
The Corporate Plan will continue to guide our strategic decision-making in terms of finances, facility and infrastructure management, resort experience partnerships, customer service, community trust and protecting or natural assets and the environment.
The robust Corporate Plan and budget development and reporting processes, along with extensive committee work and a very busy council schedule, will continue to provide engagement, accountability and transparency in our work.
As I mentioned, the EPI report includes over 60 action items to be implemented over the next 24 months. Examples include the Resort Rejuvenation Initiative, updating the Whistler Welcome Strategy and improving Way Finding, investment put towards attracting more conference business and increased support for winter event programming and smaller scale events. Conferences will be a focus for us in 2014 as Whistler hosts TEDActive for the first year and will once again host the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) convention. Conference business is an important part of Whistler’s economy, and conferences like UBCM bring significant visitors to the resort during non-peak periods.
It has been an exceptional year, and as a resort community we have received many awards including the Google eTown Award, Best Weekend Getaway, Best Winter and Summer Destination, Best International Family Ski Resort and many more. It is important that Whistler can continue to raise the bar on the experiences, products and services offered within the resort community, and continue to find ways to be innovative and competitive in the face of strong competition and challenging world economies. Whistler is so fortunate to have the strong, caring community, partnerships, and pioneering spirit that enable us to continue to move forward strongly, even in challenging times.
Whether your holiday plans include taking a walk down the Village stroll to enjoy the holiday lights, time on the mountain, exploring the cross-country and snowshoe trails, or skating at Whistler Olympic Plaza, we hope you will enjoy this festive time with your loves ones.
Please remember to think of those who are less fortunate this year. Our food banks are always looking for donations and there are many other organizations in our community that are in need of assistance this year.
On behalf of the RMOW council and staff, we wish you a Happy Holiday season and a Happy Healthy New Year!
We look forward to continuing to serve the resort community in 2014.
Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, Mayor
Resort Municipality of Whistler