An event created to bolster Marine Drive attracted a small but expressive crowd at the White Rock waterfront on Saturday.
The 'Drive is Alive' family event – hosted by the White Rock Business Improvement Association, in response to recent media attention focusing on merchant vacancies – served as an opportunity for the public to provide feedback on what can be done to liven the strip.
The BIA will use information from the event – and a prior meeting with waterfront merchants and one with property owners – to present a report to council by the end of the month, said Ernie Klassen, White Rock BIA president.
Klassen told Peace Arch News Monday that while the BIA can collect information from waterfront visitors, merchants and property owners, it has little power without the co-operation of the city.
"There's not a lot we can do without the city being involved. It has to be a team, or partnership between the merchants, the BIA and the city if we're going to make any real changes," Klassen said.
Asked if he felt the city was doing its part, Klassen said, "well, as you know, we did present what the merchants felt was necessary around free parking and that was not received by the city and acted upon on the way the merchants would have liked to see the outcome of."
Klassen, who owns Ashberry & Logan florists on Johnston Road, was referring to a request the BIA made to city council to temporarily make parking free through March and April.
Council last week rejected the request, which city staff said would result in an estimated $190,000 shortfall. Coun. Bill Lawrence's motion to have staff look at other ways of offsetting the cost of the initiative was also rejected.
"If the BIA is really interested in giving free parking, what about disbanding the BIA and have the $300,000 or so it receives each year going to businesses for free parking?" Coun. Helen Fathers said during the March 27 discussion.
The BIA was formed by the city in 2005. It is a non-profit organization governed by a volunteer board and funded by city businesses through a levy.
While the City of White Rock had a pop-up booth to receive official-community-plan feedback at Saturday's event and was thanked in BIA advertising, Klassen said the city did not participate in planning.
He said approximately 100-200 people attended over the four-hour period, and that the number was "pretty good given the (rainy) weather."
Julie Burns, from Ocean Park, brought her family to support the waterfront community.
"When we came down here, there wasn't any cars. When you think of an event, you think there'd be lots of people and lots going on, and there wasn't," she told PAN Saturday.
Burns suggested more events be organized to draw people down to the waterfront.
Jackie Huff – Miss White Rock 1963 – went to the waterfront Saturday for lunch.
"I came down here, actually, to get some street food. But I don't think there's any street food here," she said.
Huff said she didn't want to dine in the restaurants because they're "not for single people, or people who don't want to spend a lot of money."
"There's not much to do down here at the beach anymore. Except spend money, really, on food at the restaurants... I don't want to go and sit down at a restaurant. I want to walk along the pier with a hot dog or a taco or something."
Huff said the pay parking is a "hassle, but I don't think it's the main reason people aren't coming."
Heather Crawford, who entertained attendees as Korki the Clown, said there needs to be more unity between East Beach and West Beach.
"It's been a challenge for as long as I can remember. Both ends of the beach are fabulous, but that invisible borderline of Surrey and White Rock (in East Beach)... two different sides of the street," she noted.
Crawford said free parking "is a thing of the past, (although) it would be nice to have some grace periods."
"With it not only being Canada's 150th, but being (the City of White Rock's) 60th, it's time for the small businesses and the community to rally together. This is the year to do it. The right hand needs to start talking to the left," she said.
John Kopchia, from South Surrey, said White Rock "needs its own vibe."
"I was just comparing it to Dundarave in West Vancouver. It has a good little name to it. When you go there, it has shops and it's a destination. Instead of White Rock beach, it needs to be a destination at White Rock beach," Kopchia noted.
One South Surrey resident, who identified himself only as Chris, said the city should disband the White Rock BIA.
"The BIA advertises locally... I don't see any other advertising in other areas of the Lower Mainland. People are already here and they know what the issues are," Chris said.
"Parking is an issue. My wife went out to supper with her sister the other day and they stayed uptown because of the parking. I used to work on the strip here, and I had free parking, and we'd come down here quite often, we used to go to Uli's, we used to go to Cosmo's because of the free parking."
He said the waterfront restaurants are eclectic and unique, but there are too many of them for the number of people visiting the strip.
"There should be some kind of variety. If you go down to Anacortes, or downtown Vancouver and walk along some of the areas near the ocean, there's a variety of retail places. You just can't sustain when 60 per cent of the enterprises are restaurants."
Klassen said a recurring theme from feedback was that waterfront businesses need to diversify and the area needs to "look a little more 21st century... It looks like we've been left behind the rest of the communities. Fort Langley, Steveston, those were the ones people often throw out at us, there's been a lot of modernization and updating.
"Of course, the parking thing keeps coming up."
-with files from Gord Goble