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Pay parking impacting businesses, say owner

Some Whistler Village businesses are experiencing dramatic loss in sales relating to pay parking in day lots 1, 2 and 3

"Our day sales at Tapley's are down at least 50 per cent in September and October," said Dick Gibbons, owner of the Gibbons Hospitality Group. "We attribute pretty much all of that to the pay parking issues."

He said all his businesses, except Buffalo Bill's, which isn't open at lunchtime, have experienced a drop in sales.

Several businesses, mainly restaurants, have experienced a similar dip in sales since pay parking was installed, particularly during lunch hour when many locals who work outside the Village would come in to eat.

Lauren McCann, manager at Moguls, said that the types of traffic in the Village has changed since pay parking has been installed, though the impacts on business for Mogul's hasn't been noticeable because their customer base has always been people who work or live in the Village.

"But as a shopper, I don't come into town because I don't want to pay," McCann said.

Gibbons has been quite vocal in his opinion that pay parking is not a positive thing for the Village, and is in fact "the most counterproductive effort that has been made since I have been involved in Whistler."

Day Lots 4 and 5, which are still free, were close to full this past Saturday, while the pay lots 1, 2 and 3 were almost completely empty with only a few cars and campers scattered throughout. This has typically been the case since pay parking meters were installed in these lots in June.

Gibbons said the only way to solve this issue is to get rid of the pay parking.

"It's pretty simple," he said. "Look, everybody makes mistakes in judgment. I realize that council and the administrators in Whistler are all doing their best to make things work, but from time to time we all make mistakes. This has been a clear mistake in my mind. When you make a mistake, the best thing to do is firstly acknowledge that mistake, and secondly correct it before it compounds itself."

In the beginning, revenue generated from the parking lots is meant to pay for the barrier at Fitzsimmons Creek drainage, a flood-protection measure to mitigate the impacts of the Fitzsimmons land slump on the flank of Whistler Mountain. A portion of the revenue will also fund the RMOW's winter bus service.

Mayor Ken Melamed said in the past that pay parking is a side issue to transportation, and revenue generated from the day lots in the future will fund better public transportation throughout town.

But the project is not doing as well as the RMOW hoped. In July, the pay parking meters pulled in $142,637 of the $199,920 that was projected in 2008 (71 per cent). In August, the RMOW was on its way to meet 60 per cent of projected revenue. Another update will be presented to council in December.

Lauren Ritz, manager at Evolution, said it's hard to tell what the impacts of pay parking have been for many retailers, especially those specializing in ski and snowboarding gear, because 2010 has been an awful year for sales anyway.

"This has been our worst year on record for sales in 15 years," she said. While sales have been steadily increasing over the year, earnings were down 60 per cent at one point because of the Olympics. Visitors came up to enjoy the Games, she said, and were not buying gear to go ride the mountain.

"It's hard to tell if pay-parking is an issue or if we're still recovering from the Olympics," she said. "People are still also in a little bit of a recession time it seems. People don't seem as liberal to spend money."

The problem, she said, is that locals just don't want to pay for parking. They never used to... then all of a sudden it's $12 for a full day of parking.

"They have other choices, they have other places they can go eat. It's defeating the whole premise upon which the Village of Whistler was built. It was intended to be a centre for meeting, for locals and tourists coming together. This would be where the shopping, entertaining and food establishments were. This was to be a very high-energy place to come and interact. This is just putting another obstacle in the way of making that happen."

Some businesses report a steady decline in business over the last three years, and while pay parking hasn't helped the situation they say there are other factors at play. For bars and restaurants, the HST and new impaired driving laws have had resounding impacts on sales, while the recession in general has hit the entire resort.

"We've seen a downward trend since February 2007," said Dan Ellis, owner of Armchair Books. "I get the impression from other merchants around town that this holds true as well for them. Whether the parking has much of an influence, I don't know. It's partially due to the economy and less tourist dollars coming in."

The impact hasn't been felt by all businesses. Emily Simmons, sales manager for Solaris Spa and Wellness Centre, said that her business is so specialized that people will come in anyway. The impact is more on how people choose to get there.

She said, "It's really pushed people to take other means of transportation because they're not interested in paying for parking."

She said the shift toward a resort town that doesn't depend on cars is a good thing in the bigger picture, but in the off-season she noted that the day lots are still very empty. She says there is something wrong with that.

"If that's where Whistler's headed then we want to support it, but sometimes these plans could be a little bit more thought out beforehand," she said.

Michael Brisbois, general manager of the Keg and Brandy's Bar, said the impact has not been felt by their customer base but by his staff.

"The one impact is that some of my staff have said that parking in Lot 4 is a safety issue. It's not lit up as it is in lots 1, 2 and 3," he said.

"I don't think it's the best move by the municipality but we have to live with their decisions. So if it generates more money and it goes into good projects and stuff that benefits all of us, great. But it's really impacting our staff," he said.

Businesses outside of the Village don't appear to have experienced any increase in business, at lunchtime or otherwise, but Les Ecker, general manger of Southside Diner in Creekside said that he thinks businesses will profit from day trippers and tourists avoiding the village base areas because of pay parking, and using Creekside base instead.

The municipality does not plan on eliminating pay parking, but has offered some new programs to make pay parking easier for customers. A by pay-by-cell option will be available on Nov. 25 that will allow people pay for parking in the day lots using their cell phones. In addition, guests will receive a text message reminder before parking time expires, and will have the option of phoning in to extend parking time from anywhere.

The RMOW also sells in-car smart meters for $50 that can be used in municipal lots and on Main Street, which charges drivers by the minute instead of by the hour.

Winter parking rates will also come into effect on Nov. 25 at $8 per day.