A new Waterfront Task Force to address flagging business on Marine Drive is off to a flying start, according to organizers.
South Surrey & White Rock Chamber of Commerce executive director Cliff Annable and acting White Rock Business Improvement Association executive director Russ Davies say a Feb. 28 afternoon meeting of business owners and some property owners packed the back room at Whitby’s Books and Gifts on Marine Drive – with some 60 to 65 businesses represented.
And a new slogan – “The Drive Is Alive” – emerged as a signal of a common desire for a reinvigorated waterfront, they said.
“It went really well,” Annable told Peace Arch News. “It was heartening that people stepped up. In all my years in the community and everything I’ve been involved in I’ve not seen anything quite like this. I was very pleasantly surprised…. It wasn’t just people whining and complaining – people were pretty positive.”
Annable noted the recent high awareness of restaurant and other business closures on Marine Drive seems to have galvanized business owners into a proactive attitude.
“It’s touched a nerve,” he said. “This is their community, and they want to make sure it gets better.”
Davies – former BIA executive director from 2005 to 2010, and currently filling in part-time until the end of April when a new executive director is hired – said he was gratified at the response from waterfront businesses.
“We invited them to come along and express their opinions, talk about problems, bring good ideas, crazy ideas – say whatever they want,” Davies said. “The people who attended also included businesses from uptown White Rock who felt they wanted to throw their two-bits in. We got a lot of drop-by people. They all want to bring the waterfront back and make it something special again.
“There are a lot of passionate people who love Marine Drive and want to see it succeed. It is, after all, the ‘face’ of White Rock.”
The discussion didn’t soft-pedal the challenges waterfront businesses are experiencing, Davies said.
“Rent is certainly one of them – and property valuation. These things affect what you can do as a business. Parking and pay parking came into play. It was pointed out that some of the closed (premises) didn’t look great – there is garbage around and awnings that need cleaning.”
There were also many ideas thrown into the discussion about how to help engage visitors, he said.
“We had people suggesting a ferris wheel – and we always hear about having trams and trolleys going up and down the drive.”
Several action items emerged from the two-hour meeting.
“Within 10 to 15 days, we’re going to be having a meeting with commercial property owners and Realtors to get their perspective,” Davies said, noting the task force also wants to schedule a meeting where the general public can have its say about what it wants to see on the Drive.
“We want to keep this open and accessible and inclusive, with no hidden agendas.”
Merchants and the public will be invited to get involved in an April 1 power-washing and cleanup event to help spruce up Marine Drive.
Annable said that while Coun. Bill Lawrence attended, it was largely in his capacity as former co-owner of the now-closed Sandpiper Pub.
The Waterfront Task Force will continue to be a collaboration of the chamber and the BIA – but it clearly has the blessing of the city, which cancelled its own task force last week to avoid duplication.
“We’ll be keeping them advised and updated,” Annable said. “The city has to be engaged in this – we’ll need the city’s help.”
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