Pay parking draws fire from local businesses as announcement nears 

Initiative 'ridiculous, offensive,' said one business owner

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."

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