COLUMN: No reason White Rock can’t thrive year-round

Plenty of food for thought when it comes to finding solutions to Marine Drive restuarants' issues.

An in-depth article published last week in Peace Arch News on the challenges of operating a restaurant on Marine Drive in White Rock provokes thoughts on not just the business climate, but the future potential of the “city by the sea.”

Online comments about the article, including a number from restaurant owners, also provide excellent food for thought.

What is White Rock’s greatest asset? Its proximity to the ocean and longtime role as a regional destination for visitors in the warm-weather months.

How can this asset be used more effectively to keep businesses thriving? It starts with marketing and promotion, but as several restaurant owners point out, the parking issue must be addressed in a more decisive manner. All the marketing in the world won’t help if people who come, particularly for the first time, cannot find a place to leave their vehicles.

Why should there be so much attention paid to marketing, promotion and parking issues? It’s existential. The future of White Rock as a standalone city requires that it have a thriving business climate. If it is to become nothing more than a location for ocean-view homes, it will become just another neighbourhood and will eventually go back to being part of Surrey.

The parking issues needs some serious attention. Why would the city even think about taking out 10 parking stalls near Balsam Street to build a sidewalk? If the sidewalk is that important, an alternate supply of parking spots should have been part of the overall project.

Several people suggested parking be free in the winter.

It is already provided at half-price during those months, and there is no shortage of parking at that time of year. The city pays a large sum to Burlington Northern Santa Fe to lease most of the land used for parking, and it needs some kind of cash flow in the winter months to help pay those costs.

As restaurant owner Shafique Saleemi says, if you can afford to go to a restaurant, you can afford parking costs.

Parking issues must be sorted out before the city and its businesses can be effectively marketed. Right now, many of them shut down for extended periods in the winter months because of light traffic.

Business is definitely slower. But that’s when parking is most available – and there is no reason that people cannot be attracted to Marine Drive in the winter.

Personally, we as out-of-towners (who live 12 kilometres distant) have stayed at the Ocean Promenade Hotel on two occasions, both in the fall and winter. The stay was wonderful on both occasions, but it was difficult to find nearby places to eat because most of them were closed.

There need to be arrangements made so that employees can park farther from the beach in the summer and leave more parking spots for visitors. There needs to be a frequent shuttle service from parking areas on the hilltop in the summer months – one that is reliable and reasonable enough that it will steadily attract users.

After parking is improved, there needs to be a concerted effort to attract more visitors – particularly Americans, most of whom have no idea that such an attractive seaside town is so close to the border. Their dollars go a long way in White Rock these days, and they should be coming there in droves – winter and summer.

The BIA not contributing to a billboard directing American visitors to White Rock makes no sense.

Social-media campaigns directed at Americans in northwest Washington would also pay big dividends. The fall and winter months are a great time to first invite them to the area.

Concerted effort by business owners, the BIA and the city could make business conditions along Marine Drive much better. That would make White Rock itself more viable. Everyone involved would benefit.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News. frank.bucholtz@gmail.com

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