There’s no shortage of opinions as to why so many restaurants fail to survive on White Rock’s waterfront.
An article published by Peace Arch News last week received dozens of comments from locals wading into the issue. The opinions vary, but the recurring theme amongst the commentary is pay parking. Some readers specifically said they don’t dine on Marine Drive due to pay parking – $1.50 an hour during the winter months and $3 an hour during peak season.
That opinion on parking, however, does not reflect the majority of elected officials at city hall.
PAN made attempts to speak with every council member. Only one, Coun. Bill Lawrence, expressed a desire to change the current parking system. (Coun. Megan Knight did not respond.)
“I really get tired of people saying pay parking is the main problem that we’re having… I don’t think that’s the case,” Coun. David Chesney said. “I don’t think the parking is the end-all and be-all of the problems down there. I think it’s a pretty easy thing for businesses that are having a struggle of it to say ‘Oh, the pay parking is killing our business.”
Chesney used Charlie Don’t Surf as an example of why the parking system is fine as is.
“(Owner John Carroll) just told me that he had his best summer ever,” Chesney said. “So, I have to question why these businesses are going out of business on one hand, and on the other hand I have a business owner tell me that he had the best summer ever.”
Mayor Wayne Baldwin agreed that pay parking seems to be an easy target for struggling business owners.
“When something fails the first option for people is to say ‘It wasn’t my fault. I did everything I could so it’s got to be something else.’ What’s the external cause? It’s going to be pay parking, of course,” he said.
Baldwin pulled up the parking revenues in the city for the past 10 years. Parking revenue increased every year from $1,758,964 in 2007 to a projected revenue of $2,173,886 in 2016.
“I see never a decrease, always an increase in revenues. That means no, people are there. But what is happening is you’re failing to get them into your business.”
(The city’s communications manager did not respond by press deadline Tuesday to a request for a seasonal breakdown of parking revenues.)
Baldwin noted the city leases the waterfront lands from BNSF for about $500,000 a year and then has to pay $300,000 tax to TransLink, and he said the city’s job is to present people with a reason to come to the waterfront and it’s the responsibility of the business owner to get people into the business.
Coun. Lynne Sinclair noted she struggled to find a parking spot on a bright sunny day earlier last month.
“It’s only $1.50 an hour, it is a reduced rate in the winter. I’m not inclined to revisit it. I think there are some other issues at play here that we really need to get a handle on, one would be the jacking up of the lease rates.”
Sinclair said one idea that’s being floated, but she’s unsure of the legality of, is an empty-storefront tax.
She said the city needs to examine the factors contributing to empty storefronts.
“The easy thing for me to do is say ‘Oh sure, free parking.’ But, I really think we need to be careful and get the proper answers if we’re going to turn this around,” she said.
Coun. Helen Fathers said she routinely takes a drive down the waterfront strip.
“I can honestly say that it is shocking down there,” she said. “Something is going on down there. I don’t necessarily think it’s just to do with the parking.
“I wonder if we’ve reached a stage where some of these properties are up for redevelopment. Maybe some of them could go back to residential or town homes. I wonder if we’ve reached a point where we need more down there than a platter of restaurants.”
Coun. Grant Meyer said the current parking system is fair.
“I don’t know if you’ve been down there in the winter when it’s a sunny day. It’s cold, but it’s sunny and nice, the lots can be full,” he said.
Meyer noted it’s common for one or two restaurants to close every year.
Lawrence suggested changing pay parking to entice people during winter months.
“One of the thoughts I have is to definitely have at least four months during winter time, November to February, where it’s free parking,” he said. “There are so many other places to go where there is no parking fee.”
Lawrence said the city could make his plan revenue-neutral by increasing costs in summer.
“Basically there’s no reason to say no,” he said. “I think we have to get our heads together and make something happen and happen quickly. Because right now it’s very dismal down on the beach, that’s for sure.”