Marine Drive businesses eager for a re-opening of White Rock’s waterfront parkade will have a while longer to wait.
A final decision on re-opening the more than 180 parking spaces in the facility will have to wait until city council’s next regular meeting on July 27.
But communications and government relations manager Donna Kell confirmed to Peace Arch News that the new COVID-19 Recovery Task Force – to which council had referred the matter for input at its July 13 meeting – recommended Tuesday that “staff look at ways to reopen the West Beach Parkade in a safe and reasonable manner, as quickly as possible.”
City staff – including engineer and operations manager Jim Gordon – have already told council it would only take two or three days for them to develop a plan for re-opening the parkade that would take into account such pandemic-related issues as social distancing, posting warning signs and ensuring adequate disenfection of the parkade’s elevator.
A final council decision to re-open the parkade can’t come too soon, said South Surrey White Rock Chamber of Commerce executive director Ritu Khanna, who added she is hearing from many businesses on the strip that customers are frustrated by the lack of parking spaces.
“Every day counts right now; every weekend counts for the businesses down there,” she said, noting that the city is inevitably a destination for visitors from all over the Lower Mainland.
“We have been asking the city for three weeks to open the parkade – we don’t want people to have challenges of parking when they come to White Rock – that’s the reason for having the parkade in the first place. Businesses can do the social distancing, but this is going to deter people from coming back.”
Khanna pointed out that, in addition to restaurants, the Marine Drive strip is also home to retail and service businesses.
“I respect the city is being prudent and taking measures because of the perceived risks of COVID-19 – but, at the same time this is taking away business and revenue opportunities on the waterfront.”
And that revenue, she suggested, could offset increased operating costs due to measures such as extra sanitation of the facility.
“The city could mitigate (the risks of opening the parkade) by increased signage; maybe open every other stall – but at least get it open,” Khanna said.
“For every single business right now it’s been a tough ride. I feel very strongly that it needs to open sooner than later. It’s very unfortunate that it it has taken so long.”
Khanna’s comments were echoed by White Rock BIA executive director Alex Nixon.
“We’re hearing from a lot of businesses on the waterfront that their customers are having a challenging time finding parking,” he said.
“In general, that’s been a problem, but it’s particularly a problem now, when restaurants are encouraging customers to make reservations because of the reduced capacity, only to find customers arriving late for their reservations because they have had problems finding parking.”
Nixon said he certainly appreciates the concerns of council in mulling the re-opening of the parkade, adding that the challenge is how to balance a desire to restart the economy with the need to ensure public safety .
“No-one wants to see COVID get a foothold in our community,” he said.
But he noted that business owners share the same concerns as council members, because the health of the community is essential to their livelihood.
“They really do understand it, because they are having to take so many precautions themselves. They want their staff and their customers to be as safe as possible.”
At the July 13 council meeting, Coun. David Chesney, had urged caution in moving to re-open the parkade.
“Two hundred (parking) spots probably mean on average – at three or four people (per vehicle) – 600 (to) 700 (to) 800 more people on our waterfront,’ he said, noting the spate of visitors during recent sunny days.
“I don’t think that we want to put any more people into that mix, to be very honest,” he added.
“The restaurants can’t get any busier – they’re chock-a-block full as it is, with the weather… the sidewalks currently are very difficult to pass. I’m happy to say the promenade and the pier, to this point, have had fairly good social distancing. But adding a further 600 to 800 people to the mix would be the wrong way to go.”