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Pay parking sparks frank discussion at workshop

Workshop includes input from Chamber, Tourism Whistler and others



After a candid conversation with community leaders, Whistler is one step closer to finding a solution to its pay parking woes.

Back at the drawing board this week, council met with representatives from the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, Whistler Blackcomb, Tourism Whistler and others to rehash the issues around the day lot parking strategy - a strategy that was delayed in June after community backlash.

It's the first time community organizations have had their two cents on pay parking and all cards were on the table: what the province's role is, what parking revenues are needed to balance the budget, how the municipality borrowed against its reserves for capital investments and, perhaps most importantly, how the community feels about the issue.

"They (businesses) feel like they haven't been involved in the introduction of pay parking," explained Fiona Famulak, president of the chamber.

As such, parking has become an emotional, catchall scapegoat for the business blues.

Mayor Ken Melamed said he wanted to debunk the myth that pay parking is driving away business to the resort.

"This is not about price," he said at Tuesday's pay parking workshop. "It's entirely about convenience."

In the 5,000 surveys of its guests this year, just 33 respondents brought up pay parking as an issue at Whistler Blackcomb.

On one of the busiest days on record for the company, with 26,000 guests on the mountains, its "free" parking options at Base II, Creekside and two of the day lots were not full to capacity.

"We're hard done by to explain that," said Doug Forseth, senior vice-president of operations.

"It was an important observation in our minds."

It was also an observation made by the newly-hired parking consultant Dave Hill, who facilitated the meeting.

From the two days he'd been in Whistler, Hill suggested that perhaps there simply aren't the cars out there to fill the day lots on a regular summer's weekday.

"I don't know that the cars are out there," said Hill.

Parking was an issue, however, for some of those surveyed by Tourism Whistler.

Its statistics show that 20 per cent of the people that drive to Whistler are dissatisfied with parking.

"There could be a variety of issues," said President Barrett Fisher. "But clearly price comes into it."

Tourism Whistler also expressed concern over the time constraints imposed on guests by parking, particularly the fact that guests might leave Whistler earlier because their parking time had run out.

As Whistler works to find solutions to the parking problem, another issue was raised at the workshop, the so-called "fly in the ointment." Pay parking was expected to bring in millions in revenue for the municipality.

Of that $2 million in forecasted revenues, the municipality has to pay $250,000 to $300,000 in operating costs, put half a million dollars into transit and pay off the money that was borrowed to pave the lots ($4.5 million) and build the Fitzsimmons Creek debris barrier ($5. 8 million)

The municipality borrowed from its reserves to pay for those capital costs. Those reserves are built up to replace and rebuild ageing infrastructure.

"It's the other assets that were borrowed against," explained Lisa Landry, general manager of economic viability.

In the past 12 months since pay parking was introduced, $850,000 has been generated in revenues.

Bob MacPherson, one of the municipal representatives on the Parking Lot Operations Committee, said with this week's input they would test out some of the assumptions and try to put some realities around the numbers.

"This is an emotional issue," he said.

Community members will have a chance to provide input in a web survey in the coming weeks.

A second workshop will be held on July 19.