COLUMN: Free parking a move in right direction

New ideas to promote White Rock are also worth considering, writes columnist Frank Bucholtz

A move to eliminate pay parking along Marine Drive in White Rock for the months of February and March is a smart and perhaps even bold move by White Rock council.

READ MORE: White Rock council driving at two months of free waterfront parking

The move is being made in response to pleas from waterfront businesses, which have been even quieter than usual since the Dec. 20 windstorm, which severely damaged the pier. Historically, the winter months are slow along the waterfront and many businesses either do not open at all, or open sporadically.

The pier and promenade do attract a lot of visitors in the winter, though, particularly on nicer days. This helps those businesses that remain open, and it also boosts parking revenues for the city.

This year is shaping up to be very different. The repairs to the pier, estimated to cost about $6 million, are likely to go on until August. Much of the promenade remains closed. While it will reopen ahead of the pier, business owners are worried that their peak months (usually May to September) won’t be nearly as healthy if much of the waterfront remains a construction zone.

The lengthy period of time it is taking for construction work on the waterfront park adjacent to the museum, and on the new parking garage, exacerbates the problem. The park construction has temporarily eliminated most of the parking near the pier, where many restaurants and tourist-oriented businesses are located. Only some of those spots will return.

All the construction, in addition to the damage done by the windstorm, is combining to severely limit the number of people even thinking about visiting White Rock. The construction work along Johnston Road in uptown White Rock has also reduced traffic. It all adds up to very challenging business conditions for most city businesses. A suggestion to reduce or eliminate patio fees for this year could also help, if council is willing to go that route.

The new council, with five new members, seems open to different approaches than its predecessors. The two-month free parking plan is an excellent step forward.

Council needs to pay close attention to how well it works. City staff should do regular parking patrols during those months, not to hand out tickets but to gather information on how busy the parking areas are, as compared to the same time last year.

If free parking does boost business along the waterfront, it might be worth thinking about extending the program in future years – perhaps from mid-November to the end of February. If this helps boost the bottom line for local businesses, it will be good for the city.

New ideas to promote White Rock are also worth considering. Ernie Klassen, who ran for council but was not elected in October, is suggesting a campaign promoting White Rock as a great spot to watch sunrises and sunsets. This is an idea which could help draw in additional tourists.

The city and the business community might also give thought as to how to attract more Americans, particularly from neighbouring Whatcom County. Their money goes a long way and many are already familiar with White Rock.

New ideas about how to boost tourism, not just on the waterfront but elsewhere in the city, are badly needed to help business owners survive and thrive.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News, as well as at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca – email frank.bucholtz@gmail.com

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