Merchants say reinstating paid parking on Granville Island is unfair after the business losses they've already endured during the pandemic.
The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), which manages Granville Island, made parking free last March to support businesses, artists and makers and their customers.
In early April 2021, CMHC announced that paid parking would be returning as of May 1.
One of the area's landlords has launched a petition calling for the return of free parking until business returns to normal on Granville Island.
"With the exception of the greengrocers, most people are just struggling to survive," David McCann told CBC radio's On the Coast reporter Margaret Gallagher. "Half of my offices are empty because the people are either working for home or they just reduced staff down to the point that they're just hanging on to see if this pandemic ever is going to end."
Of his 15 retail tenants, McCann says only two are bringing in above 50 per cent of their usual sales and most are closer to 30 per cent.
"I've got a restaurant that's 225 to 250 seats. Right now, they've got about 28 seats that they can seat people at. I don't know if they'll stay for much longer."
CMHC's general manager says paid parking is being brought back to free up space for customers.
"When we looked at the numbers, we discovered that a lot of the people who are coming to park for free weren't actually spending any time on Granville Island," explained Tom Lancaster. "They weren't spending any money. They weren't supporting local businesses. They weren't supporting artists or artisans."
He adds that a significant amount of parking spaces on Granville Island are taken up by staff who work there, thus reducing the number of spaces available for paying customers.
But McCann believes it's unfair to place that burden on staff and businesses that are still dealing with reduced sales, especially when CMHC received $16.7 million in federal aid funding last year and is set to receive $21.7 million in the next federal budget.
"[That's] more than the annual funding that they get from the entire Island, from parking, from rents, from the movie industry when they come down here and use spaces," McCann said.
"You're asking people who are already struggling, who are already on reduced hours, you're asking them to pay for a problem that they didn't create and you've got all that money from the government."
Lancaster says thanks to the federal aid Granville Island received last fiscal year, CMHC was able to offer rent reductions of 75 to 100 per cent for qualifying tenants.
"The problem is that the money is not a giant bag of cash for Granville Island to be able to spend however we want it," he also said. "The revenue that we get on the Island is the only way that the Island survives."
He maintains that parking fees for Granville Island, which is technically a peninsula, will be reduced compared to pre-pandemic levels with the weekday rate set at $1 an hour and the weekend rate at $2 an hour. Daily passes will also be available for $7 on weekdays and $14 on weekends and holidays.