A former White Rock business owner still actively involved on Marine Drive says the waterfront strip is starting to recover.
In response to nearly a dozen waterfront closures over the past four years, the White Rock BIA created a Waterfront Task Force to find a solution. To get a handle on the issue, the BIA met with waterfront merchants and real-estate agents and hosted a ‘Drive is Alive’ event last month.
Last October, Shafique Saleemi – owner of Marine Drive businesses Fishboat, Little Ass Burrito Bar and Crazy Cow Ice Cream – said the vacant businesses that scatter Marine Drive make it look like a “ghost town.” Last January, Coun. Helen Fathers described the number of closures as “shocking,” and Coun. Bill Lawerence said that “Marine Drive is dying.”
But all of that is starting to change, according to Jeffrey Copland.
Copland – who used to own Fresh Slice Pizza – contacted Peace Arch News last month to discuss the new businesses coming to the beach.
Copland now works as a real-estate agent and says he has sold or leased several commercial waterfront properties in recent months.
“I see the future of the beach having a strong comeback,” he said.
Copland offered his opinion on why closed restaurants sit vacant for several years on the waterfront.
“There’s some offshore owners that own some of the buildings. They have left them vacant with no intention of really renting them out,” he noted.
Copland said the 15 per cent foreign home buyers tax put in place by the provincial government last year has caused foreign investors to turn their attention to commercial property.
“The 15 per cent tax on foreign buyers, that does not apply on commercial real estate. People who were looking at houses before are turning to look at commercial buildings as an investment.”
He said news reports of slowing business on the waterfront has attracted buyers to the area.
“When they hear that it’s quiet and they hear that it’s slowed down, some people see that as an opportunity to buy up the real estate at a good price. Some people are scared off, but at the same time there are a lot of Chinese investors that think it’s a good time to buy in White Rock because it will thrive again. That’s the whole idea,” he said.
The majority of city councillors have rejected the notion that pay parking has played a key role in hurting business on Marine Drive.
“I don’t want to trash the city at all, but parking seems to be the biggest issue that people talk about. I think it was eight years ago they had free parking during the winter. That definitely helped and made people happy. The business owners tend to complain about the parking cost,” Copland said.
Copland said other waterfront areas – such as North Vancouver and Vancouver’s Gastown and English Bay communities– seem to have a variety of different attractions.
“I would hate to say it, but the museum is not an attraction. That museum is a landmark in White Rock and it should be dressed up for people to get excited to come visit. I don’t really see it as an attraction. If they left it like the old train station and had a train outside where kids could climb up and take pictures, it would be more interesting. But, they’re charging money to walk through a museum that I don’t think is interesting at all.”
Copland identified several changes at or coming to the waterfront, including:
• Jimmy Flynn’s Celtic Snug (15065 Marine Dr.) will be turned into English/Irish pub, The Dew Drop Inn.
• Jolly Roger (14981 Marine Dr.) will be opened as The B.E.A.C.H restaurant.
• Booster Juice (14973 Marine Dr.) will be a chocolate/florist shop.
• Moby Dick Restaurant (15479 Marine Dr.) will be expanding.
• Kahunas Fish and Chips (15519 Marine Dr.) changed owners and will be renamed to Baja Cantina.
• Primo’s Mexican Grill (15069 Marine Dr.) has taken over Cielo’s Restaurant.
• Rock City Burgers (14945 Marine Dr.) has taken over Wings.
• Crazy Cows Ice Cream has moved to West Beach.