People gathered in White Rock’s Memorial Park on a sunny April day as temperatures hit 19C. (Aaron Hinks photo)

People gathered in White Rock’s Memorial Park on a sunny April day as temperatures hit 19C. (Aaron Hinks photo)

Lack of seating space leaves White Rock restaurants facing ‘existential crisis’: BIA

Business Improvement Association slams council’s handling of threat to waterfront eateries

The White Rock Business Improvement Association has released a strongly worded report to council, criticizing its handling of the “existential crisis” imposed on Marine Drive restaurants.

Limited patio seating capacity is the number-one threat to restaurants on Marine Drive, the report notes. It also says White Rock council has not followed through with two ideas offered by the BIA to address the issue, which include allowing liquor consumption in Memorial Park and turning Marine Drive into a one-way route. The rationale behind limiting vehicle travel to one direction along Marine is that it would allow restaurants to expand their patios onto the sidewalks.

“We did not bring these ideas forward because we enjoy writing letters,” the report reads. “We brought them forward because we consulted our members and researched possible solutions to the existential threat they are facing.”

RELATED: Challenges stall one-way proposal for White Rock’s Marine Drive

At Monday’s (April 26) regular meeting, council heard from staff that turning Marine Drive into a one-way route would be costly and difficult to manage – despite urging from Coun. Scott Kristjanson to find ways to make the measure work.

Coun. Christopher Trevelyan made a motion to approve turning Marine Drive into a one-way route. Council turned down the motion 5-2, with Trevelyan and Kristjanson voting in support.

Council asked staff to continue with communication measures that suggest White Rock is not offering its usual welcome to visitors. In addition, council requested a report from the BIA on ways White Rock residents could be encouraged to patronize waterfront businesses during pandemic restrictions.

However, BIA executive director Alex Nixon said marketing the waterfront to White Rock residents is not going to solve the issue of patio capacity.

“That is particularly existential on Marine Drive, given that they have no space to increase the patios. We feel that it can be done safely and well within the requirements of the current public health order,” Nixon said.

“It’s very, very hard to pay your bills when you’re limited to three or five tables. The numbers just don’t work.”

SEE ALSO: White Rock Pier, promenade, parking lot closures off the table – for now

Nixon, who said Monday’s council meeting was a “cause for concern,” said it’s “heartbreaking” to hear some of the challenges restaurant owners are facing; to hear about the layoffs and sacrifices they’ve had to make; and the second and third jobs they have had to work in order to support their business.

“We do feel that there’s a lack of understanding or a misunderstanding about the challenges that White Rock eateries currently face. It is not a marketing challenge. It is a seating-capacity challenge that needs to be understood if we’re going to help them through this time and solve this particular challenge,” Nixon said.

The report notes that the population of White Rock is simply not big enough to support its large business base without visitors from South Surrey. The report also notes that Marine Drive businesses employ more than 1,000 people.

The only two organizations that can solve the seating capacity issue, it says, are the Province of British Columbia, by removing health restrictions, and the City of White Rock.

“There seems to be, at times, a widespread, completely unsubstantiated belief that the White Rock BIA has immense regulator powers, unlimited resources, and no restriction on our programs. This is completely false,” the report states, noting that the BIA has two staff members and a budget of 0.6 per cent of the City of White Rock’s.

“Ultimately, we are policy-agnostic and problem-focused. It is far more important that the problem is solved than how it is solved. We do know two things: what the problem is – a lack of seating capacity – and that we cannot solve it.

“In this situation, all we can do is report this existential, time-sensitive threat to you.”

Mayor Darryl Walker has not yet responded to PAN’s request for comment.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article said council received the one-way Marine Drive staff report for information and did not vote on the matter. However, council voted 5-2 to reject the idea of turning Marine Drive into a one-way route.

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