The White Rock Business Improvement Association has formulated a plan to deal with the business challenges that are piled against the city’s merchants and restaurants.
The BIA sent a newsletter to its members Jan. 11, which outlines items the BIA will advocate for this year, including removing the city’s patio fees for restaurants; bringing back tourism signage on Highway 99; and making sure pier reconstruction doesn’t impact parking lots or access to the promenade.
White Rock BIA executive director Alex Nixon told Peace Arch News Monday that city businesses, particularly those closest to the pier, had a challenging summer due to the delayed construction of Memorial Park. The city’s “Memorial Park & Pier Washroom Upgrade” project resulted in the removal of two parking lots – one temporarily and one permanently – closest to the pier.
“Losing that for the summer had a severe negative impact on a number of our businesses. We don’t want a repeat of that,” Nixon said.
Memorial Park construction was delayed after an Indigenous archaeological site was discovered at the park.
One way the city could help White Rock businesses, Nixon said, is if the city waived patio fees for 2019.
A restaurant may have a patio – cost-free – if it’s within property boundaries. But if the patio goes over the property line, the owner must pay the city a set amount per square foot.
“It’s a direct impact on the business,” Nixon said. “They have to write the cheque in April. It ranges, I’ve heard, from $2,000 for some businesses to $10,000 per year. On top of that, they’ve got to make sure that they have $5 million in liability insurance, which can be quite pricey.”
Nixon said it’s appropriate for patios to be insured by the business, but it “would be a direct show of good faith and help to our businesses all over White Rock to waive the patio fees for 2019.”
“After a very challenging winter and – for some of our businesses – a very challenging summer, we would hope the city will really take this request under consideration,” Nixon said.
Nixon said he would also like to see tourism-related signage return to Highway 99 and 8 Avenue.
In April 2012, the BIA — then, Tourism White Rock — and the City of White Rock unveiled a 10-foot-by-40-foot billboard encouraging American visitors to take the first exit off Highway 99 and spend time in the seaside city. The cost of the billboard – $42,560 per year – was shared between the city and the BIA.
A year later, the BIA voted to cut its $20,000 share of funding for the billboard.
Nixon said his first priority is to figure out which level of government he needs to work with to bring back the sign.
“It sounds like the mayor and councillors, that I’ve talked to, are pretty interested in helping us out with that,” he said.
Nixon shared some concerns relating to the reconstruction of White Rock’s iconic pier, and how rebuilding the structure might affect local businesses this summer.
“We get that it’s going to take a long time to fix the pier,” he said. “We want it done well and properly, we just hope that it doesn’t impact the transportation system down on Marine Drive. In particular, beach access, promenade access, and especially parking lots.”
Nixon said it’s his understanding that there are two separate challenges related to parking along Marine Drive.
“One is that there is not enough parking in the summer,” he said, adding that the second challenge is that pay parking is a deterrent for people to visit on rainy winter days.
“With the seasonal environment like Marine Drive, reducing as many barriers as possible would have a positive effect for the businesses down there.”
City Coun. Scott Kristjanson posted to Facebook Tuesday morning that parking on Marine Drive will be free during February and March “and possibly longer.”
The emailed newsletter also offered BIA members a chance to participate in a survey relating to dogs on the promenade.
As of Monday, BIA members have voted three to one in support of allowing dogs on the promenade in the off-season. Nixon said he will be sharing the results with council.
Nixon said another challenge for White Rock businesses, that goes beyond city limits, is the affordability of the Lower Mainland.
“The city can’t make it July all year round, but we’re hoping that they’ll take into consideration some ways they can improve the structural aspects of business on Marine Drive. Parking, patio fees in particular,” he said.
Nixon said the BIA is organizing more “shoulder-season” events to bring people to the city, including a planned Craft Beer Festival in September.
“The one major downside to that is there’s going to be a craft beer festival in my community and I can’t drink at it. Other than that, it’s going to be great,” Nixon said.