Event road closures cost businesses thousands, owners say 

Ironman, GranFondo bring big money to Whistler, but few benefits for some businesses

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DAN FALLOON - closure costs Some Whistler events such as Ironman Canada (shown here) were cited as costing businesses money as roads closed for extended periods.
  • PHOTO by Dan Falloon
  • closure costs Some Whistler events such as Ironman Canada (shown here) were cited as costing businesses money as roads closed for extended periods.

While much has been made of the economic benefits of hosting events like Ironman Canada and GranFondo — which generate $7 million and $2.7 million of spending per year in Whistler, respectively, according to the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) — some business owners are raising concerns about the impact road closures are having on their bottom line.

In a recent letter to council, Lance Eymundson, owner of Home Hardware in Function Junction, outlined his concerns.

"When these events were announced I decided to refrain from judgment until I could see how they went," Eymundson wrote.

"I can now say that it costs my business approximately $5,000 to $7,000 per event. We (my accountant and I) have tracked the following days to see if we make up for the losses following the events. However, this is not the case."

In a follow-up phone call, Eymundson said he supports athletic events in the community, including sponsoring WORCA Toonie races and other events that don't affect businesses, but doesn't see any direct benefits to his business from events like Ironman and GranFondo.

"They have to close down (the Function Junction) intersection completely for Ironman for at least half a day, which means I have to close the business on a regular business day," he said.

"In my opinion, I'm paying corporate taxes and stuff to do business. I was never asked or told anywhere in a city contract that they have the right to shut me down for anything other than road repairs and so forth."

The dollar amounts cited in his letter are before expenses, Eymundson noted, but said the closures are costing him personally about $2,000 per event.

Eymundson isn't alone. Road closures for events also have a big impact on the bottom line of some adventure tour operators, who are weather dependent and have a limited number of summer Saturdays to turn a profit, said Keenan Moses of Whistler Eco Tours.

"I think (Ironman) is a great event, but I've got staff who can't come to work, I lose $3,000 to $5,000 — and I check my numbers every year, and that's for four years in a row — because we can't get to Wayside Park, we can't do tours until after 1 p.m. in the afternoon," Moses said.

"So we're losing a ton every year, and there's no benefit coming my way."

Moses said if the Ironman contract is to be renewed beyond 2017, event organizers need to compensate businesses for their losses or find a way to keep the highway open.

"(It's) really frustrating, right? Because you consider in the summer there's really only seven Saturdays that count, and those are our biggest days, and they're taking one away," he said. "It's huge."

Eric Wight, owner of Backroads Whistler, said his business sees a 90-per-cent reduction on event days.

"I support Ironman, actually, but we've got to design these events so that we have no negative impact on other businesses," Wight said. "And I hear these guys say, 'yeah, suck it up, it's just one day,' well, if they put their wallet on the table I think their story would change very quickly."

Wight said he's a big supporter of the RMOW's Festivals, Events and Animation (FE&A) program, but feels the Ironman setup could use another look.

"(Four) years ago when Ironman first came, I think that we needed a big kick for summer business," he said. "But as the resort changes and grows we see that some adjustments are needed to the different festivals and events that we have."

Rosie Schimpf, owner of Rosie's House in Creekside, didn't have a dollar figure attached to her losses, but confirmed that sales at the restaurant drop when the highway is closed for events.

"It's fantastic to have the events, but the road closures do affect us. Very much so," Schimpf said, noting that some Creekside businesses didn't even bother to open during GranFondo this year.

"I do not want to make (the events) go away. It's fantastic to have them here, (but it would be nice) if they could just figure out the logistics so they didn't have to shut down Function and Creekside in the process," she said.

"It kind of makes us feel left out — Function and Creekside as a whole — when everything is always pushed to the village. We feel that we're not thought of."

Alexandra Powell, manager at Olive's Community Market, estimated the Function grocery store loses about $2,000 in sales on event days.

"So there's definitely questions of whether we should remain open, but the thing is we do serve a lot of local clientele in Function," Powell said.

"There's enough between here and Cheakamus that we've got to be open for those people."

Acting Mayor Jen Ford said the RMOW aims to find balance and benefits for the whole community when planning out events through the FE&A program.

"Not every event is going to satisfy or be applicable to every sector in town, but we certainly try to balance them out so that, where one may be inconvenient for a particular group, the next one hopefully will benefit," Ford said.

"I think that the overall success of the resort with these events over the past five or six years has really bolstered the viability of many of the businesses in town, so it's a difficult one when you're looking at a particular event and saying how it affects one group, but hopefully that group sees the overall benefit over the course of the year."

Ironman's initial, five-year contract with the RMOW is up after next year's event. Talks have not yet begun over whether to renew, but public input will play into the discussion, Ford said.

"We're certainly looking at it through the FE&A group, and we'll continue to receive feedback and suggestions from the community," she said.

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