White Rock revives Spirit Square vision

Pier restaurant, marina expansion among $60 million in investments eyed by city.

A $1.5-million upgrade to Memorial Park and the surrounding area has been pushed to the forefront unanimously by members of White Rock council.

A $1.5-million upgrade to Memorial Park and the surrounding area has been pushed to the forefront unanimously by members of White Rock council.

The City of White Rock is budgeting for $60 million worth of general asset improvement projects over the next four years, with nearly half of that slated for the waterfront, including creation of a million-dollar Spirit Square at Memorial Park.

Projects laid out in the city’s 2016-2020 draft financial plan were reviewed at the Feb. 15 finance and audit committee meeting, where council members unanimously voted to push the timeline ahead for Memorial Park, pier washroom and tourism kiosk upgrades – for a total price tag of $1,580,000.

The projects were initially scheduled for funding in 2017/18, however, Coun. Grant Meyer asked to move them onto this year’s plan.

Coun. Lynne Sinclair noted the green space west of the pier entrance is “looking old” and it made sense to make it a priority, as work would not require approvals from other levels of government.

“With Memorial Park and the washrooms, which are already on the budget, it’s something that we can do within the next year that will really make a statement on the waterfront,” Sinclair said.

Plans for a Spirit Square at Memorial Park were first presented in 2008, as part of a provincial-grant program celebrating B.C.’s 150th anniversary. The city had three conceptual drawings created as a potential public plaza for the green space, however, the project became the source of contention among council, residents and waterfront business owners. Council of the day eventually voted against the project.

Coun. Helen Fathers said Monday that while she supports moving the projects’ timeline up, she wanted to “see a conversation come forward to council” before upgrades are given the green light.

“It’s imperative that we have that conversation to alert the public,” Fathers said. “We can’t leave the public out of our decisions and then say, ‘oh, it’s in the budget anyways.’”

Other big-ticket projects on the draft financial plan include a $100,000 concept plan for the “creation of land” on East Beach, between Finlay Street and the pier. Pending the necessary approvals, the city has budgeted $15 million for the shoreline-extension project, to be funded by Community Amenity Contributions (CACs) – paid by developers of approved projects – grants and fundraising efforts.

The city is also eyeing a $4.7-million extension of the promenade to Coldicutt Ravine, budgeted for 2017; a $5.5 million waterfront parking facility on recently purchased property on Vidal Street; $2 million for pier seabed dredging; an $850,000 marina expansion; and $100,000 for servicing a pier restaurant.

Meyer told Peace Arch News that the latter project was intended to be a tourist draw, as well as a nod to the historic legion that used to stand on the east side of the pier. He said that while plans are preliminary, he has had “numerous calls” from business owners who would be interested in building, leasing and running a restaurant on the pier.

The “shelf life” of city hall – slated for more than $700,000 worth of renovations and seismic upgrades – was also subject of discussion.

Sinclair cited “inadequate” workspace at the aging 15322 Buena Vista Ave. building and lack of accessibility for those with mobility issues.

“I’m reluctant to spend another dime without fully understanding the shelf life of this building,” Sinclair said.

Meyer agreed, noting it is “wishful thinking” that the existing city hall could last 20 years.

“No one wants to come out and say we need a new city hall, but it’s something we’re going to have to address – if it’s not this term of council, it’s the next,” Meyer said.

Mayor Wayne Baldwin – who speculated it would cost $30 million to replace city hall – said the matter needs a “fulsome discussion.”

“Perhaps we can put that on a future agenda for a planning session,” Baldwin said.

The city’s 2016-2020 draft financial plan will go to a public meeting Feb. 29, and is tentatively set to be adopted March 21.