Pay parking draws fire from Whistler businesses

It should be noted that the walk from Day Lots 4 and 5, which remain free, are being referred to around town as the “Melamed Traverse,” named after our mayor who has been a steadfast supporter of pay parking.

Initiative ‘ridiculous, offensive,’ said one business owner

By Jesse Ferreras, Pique Newsmagazine

March 3, 2011

As Whistler waits for the Resort Municipality of Whistler to announce changes to its pay parking policy, local businesses are continuing to blast the initiative as a destructive force on the local economy.

Pique spoke to business owners in various industries including food and beverage, retail, ski and snowboard rentals and the local movie theatre in advance of an expected announcement on pay parking.

The owners interviewed, unanimously reported a drop in business since the Resort Municipality of Whistler implemented pay parking in Day Lots 1, 2 and 3 in June 2010.

Jeff Coombs, the owner of McCoo’s and McCoo’s Too, stores that sell winter clothing and sporting equipment, was perhaps the most blunt of all. He said the municipality’s implementation of pay parking was “ridiculous” and “offensive” to Whistler businesses.

“It’s an inconvenience,” he said. “For anyone that has a history of coming up to Whistler, it’s in the way, it’s an intrusion. They have to do something different and inconvenient to the pattern they’ve had in the past.”

The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) announced the implementation of pay parking in April 2009. The plan is part of the long-term transportation initiative, and the Greenhouse Gas reduction and air quality plan. It is also part of the municipality’s objectives for reducing the burden on property tax, improving the visitor experience and generating revenue for transit.

Currently it is bringing in half of what was projected – $1 million annually.

The RMOW started charging for parking last June in Day Skier Lots 1, 2 and 3, which are located between Whistler Village and the Upper Village. Parking remains free at Lots 4 and 5, as well as at Base II and Creekside. However, it is expected that pay parking is coming to all the paved day skier lots in the village.

Pay parking revenues over the next 20 years are expected to cover the cost of constructing a debris barrier on Fitzsimmons Creek to protect the village from possible flooding as well as provide $500,000 annually for transit programs.

Pay parking, however, hasn’t drawn quite the revenues expected. Bob MacPherson, general manager of community life, said at a December 2010 Whistler council meeting that the municipality is pulling in enough money to cover operating costs for the lots but not enough to pay for the transit programs it hoped to fund.

Business owners like Coombs are crying out against pay parking, saying traffic has decreased at their businesses.

“Just the way morning flow happens, it’s not the same way it’s happened in the past,” said Coombs. “We saw in the summer, people used to park in the parking lots. They were still there, convenient, free and easy, and now that flow has definitely changed. I think people are out to seek whatever they can to find a free route to get in here, and I think that’s probably at Creekside.”

Jay De Witt, regional manager for Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Cinemas Ltd., which owns Whistler Village 8 Cinemas, said of all businesses in the Village, pay parking is hardest on the movie theatre.

“A lot of our business is matinee business and that’s where pay parking really hurts us, especially on weekends,” he said.

De Witt said pay parking just adds another cost on top of buying a movie ticket and candy at the concession counter. When a moviegoer has to pay for parking, he said, they won’t have money left for concession, and that is where the theatre normally makes most of its cash.

“It’s frustrating to have to pay for parking and then come and have to pay for your movie,” he said.

Pay parking has also had an impact on the food and beverage industry; at least as far as the popular Earl’s Restaurant is concerned.

Kevin Wallace, one of the restaurant’s managing partners, said not as many people are coming in for beer and wings anymore because they’re not parking in Day Lots 1, 2 and 3, which are right across the street from the restaurant.

Walking outside his restaurant he counted the number of cars in the Day Lots and found 20 parked there.

“In a regular winter it would be full,” Wallace said. “I don’t know how many car spots there are in Lot 3, but probably 300, I would say.

“There’s a lot of vacant spaces over there.”

Sandy Black, the owner of Affinity Sports Rental and a former vice-president of retail and rentals for Intrawest, said pay parking has directed traffic to lots at Blackcomb Base II and Creekside, where parking remains free.

Black, who also operates businesses in the Upper Village, said he believes Whistler Blackcomb is benefiting from free parking at Creekside because the corporation has a rental shop there.

Affinity, meanwhile, opened a rental shop at the Pan Pacific Hotel in 2010, a location that could benefit from people parking in the Day Lots and walking to the lifts at the base of Whistler Mountain. If people aren’t parking close to there, they don’t drop into his shop as often.

“This year, we expected huge improvements in business as a result of us being in a normal year,” Black said. “Well guess what, no one is parking in Lots 1, 2 and 3, therefore no one is getting out of their cars and walking down Sundial Crescent, and therefore no one is seeing our store.”

Doug Forseth, Whistler Blackcomb’s senior vice-president of operations, challenged Black’s assertions. He chuckled when asked whether the company is getting an unfair advantage in having free parking at Creekside, where people can get out of their cars and go straight to Whistler Blackcomb’s rental shops there.

“Our rental business is off as well because there are less destination people visiting Whistler,” he said. “That’s the end of the story. People are complaining that business isn’t as good as it used to be. It’s not because of pay parking, it’s because the world economy is in the tank.

“The US dollar is less than the Canadian dollar, the UK pound used to be £2.50 to a dollar, it’s now £1.50 to a dollar.

“…We count the parking lots every day. Our car counts at the Creekside lot have not been greater than they have been in past years.”

At least one Creekside business is reporting increased traffic since the municipality implemented pay parking in the Village.

Bhupinder Hothi, general manager of Creekside’s Subway restaurant, said customer traffic is “slightly up” but not a whole lot. The last three years, he said, have been fairly standard as far as customer traffic.

“I think the main reason why a lot of people are parking here now is simply because of the negative media attention that’s gone to the pay parking,” he said. “People are basically coming over on to this side.

“It’s pretty much like during the Olympics when people said don’t drive to Whistler.”

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About jesseferreras

Sea to Sky-based journalist. Snowboarder, cyclist, cinephile, bon vivant.
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