Vancouver Park Board to ponder new revenue sources, including more restaurants

Jan 11 2023, 10:02 pm

Vancouver Park Board commissioners are set to direct Park Board staff to get creative with generating new additional revenue to help support the budget of operating and improving the city’s parks and recreation system.

A new member motion by Park Board commissioner Marie-Claire Howard of the ABC Vancouver party seeks to prioritize a “think big” revenue-generating strategy that “enables opportunities for increased commercial revenues.”

The Park Board is increasingly struggling to renew its aging facilities and infrastructure and expand its services to meet the needs of the growing population.

Howard’s motion comes in the midst of the process over determining the 2023 budget and four-year capital plan, which is expected to be finalized by Park Board commissioners and Vancouver City Council in March.

Late last year, City and Park Board staff proposed a draft budget of $152 million for the Park Board’s 2023 operating expenditures, which is up from the approved 2022 operating budget of $144 million. Separately, there is a $539 million budget for the 2023-2026 capital plan of building new and improved facilities, including $208 million for parks and open spaces, which is a 25% decrease from the previous 2019-2022 capital plan.

Her motion directs Park Board staff to explore optimizing Park Board concession facilities, such as partnerships with restaurants, food trucks, and local breweries for the purposes of both new revenue and creating destinations with different experiences that attract more people. It is further suggested that the forthcoming pilot project allowing alcohol at select beach areas could be combined with a partnership with restaurants to “create unique destination beach cafes” that serve beverages and “cosmopolitan food.”

This exploratory “revenue generating lens” would also be applied to golf facilities, such as leasing clubhouses to restaurant operators and increasing golfing fees for tourists, which she says is a common practice at other golfing facilities elsewhere in the province.

stanley park christmas train

Stanley Park’s miniature train during the Christmas season. (Univaded Fox/Flickr)

the boathouse restaurant kitsilano beach

The Boathouse Restaurant on Vancouver Park Board property at Kitsilano Beach. (Shutterstock)

In pre-pandemic 2019, for example, the Park Board saw about $3 million from concession revenue, $4.2 million in lease revenue, $9.9 million from golfing revenue, $2 million from the Stanley Park Train, and $1 million from event permits and other ancillary sources. Each of these revenue figures were higher than the input expenditures for the item.

Such a revenue-generating lens would also be applied to the Park Board’s forthcoming master plans for improving major parks, including Queen Elizabeth Park, Stanley Park, and the West End waterfront (English Bay Beach and Sunset Beach parks).

Private restaurant operations that lease space on Park Board property have been a relatively lucrative revenue source.

For example, Cactus Club Cafe’s 2010-approved agreement to open a restaurant at English Bay Beach stipulates a starting base rent of $240,000 for the first two five-year terms. For all revenues after the first $4 million, the Park Board will receive 4%. A similar rent formula is applied to other restaurants on Park Board property in Stanley Park, Kitsilano Beach, and Queen Elizabeth Park.

Cactus Club Cafe also funded the construction of the English Bay restaurant building it occupies, which opened in 2012. It is the last major private restaurant to open within Park Board property. After the first five-year term, their contract stipulates five further five-year options for a total of 30 years at the location.

queen elizabeth park zipline 2

The temporary zipline atop Queen Elizabeth Park in Summer 2015. (Daily Hive)

In Summer 2015, the Park Board permitted a pilot project to partner with a private company to operate a temporary zipline attraction above the quarry gardens at Queen Elizabeth Park.

Over its 87 days of actual operation (weather permitting days), the zipline saw about 23,600 riders, with 75% coming to Queen Elizabeth Park just for the zipline. The private operator generated a total of $335,000 in revenue, with $45,000 going to the Park Board based on the formula of a Park Board return of 10% for $75,000 to $250,000 of the revenues, 35% for $250,000 to $400,000, and 40% for over $400,000.

Howard’s motion specifies the revenue-generating strategy should identify ways to develop partnerships with Destination Vancouver, Destination BC, and other tourism and sporting organizations.

Expanding and diversifying revenue sources would also reduce the pressure to generate new revenue through further increases to user fees for accessing pools, community centres, fitness gyms, and programs.

Other considerations relate to parking revenue, which she states should have “flexibility for users (short time parking increments), fairness between locations, protection of residential parking, and working with TransLink to ensure public access to our parks and recreational facilities.” With the recent repeat damage to areas of the seawall, beaches, and recreational piers, Howard also wants the Park Board to pursue funding from the provincial and federal governments to build new and improved infrastructure that mitigates the effects of a changing climate.

The ABC super majority of Park Board commissioners are expected to approve Howard’s motion and override any dissent from the lone Green Party commissioner. Park Board staff would return to commissioners in the second quarter of this year with a potential revenue-generating strategy for implementation through 2024.

In late November, the Park Board also approved a member motion that rescinded the ban on new commercial events held on Park Board property. Examples of such revenue-generating events for the Park Board include Skookum Festival in Stanley Park, Diner en Blanc, Bacio Rosso (now known as Cabaret Bijou), and Gran Fondo — under policies implemented by the previous Park Board, similar new events were not permitted.

Bacio Rosso Gourmet Cabaret Cirque

Bacio Rosso Vancouver Gourmet Cabaret Cirque 2018, held under a big tent at a Queen Elizabeth Park parking lot. (Bacio Rosso)

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