Business owners on lower Government Street are concerned Victoria council’s decision to move the downtown cruise ship shuttle bus stop two blocks north will hurt their already struggling shops.
Pre-pandemic, the majority of gift, art, sweets and retail stores in the area relied heavily on cruise ship passengers for revenue – many shops have struggled to hold on the past two years.
Valeriya Zakreski, who owns Artina’s Jewellery, said they’ve always depended on tourist traffic over the summer months.
“This season allowed us to make enough money so we can be alive next season,” she said.
Between 25 and 50 per cent of their annual revenue came from cruise traffic pre-pandemic, Zakreski said. For the last two years, she and many nearby operators have hoped and dreamed cruise ships would come back to Victoria.
On April 6, the first ship is set to dock at Ogden Point, but passengers looking to come downtown won’t be dropped at the same spot. Instead of bringing them past the Inner Harbour to the corner of Government and Fort streets, the shuttle will stop two blocks north at Yates Street.
The decision is in line with the city’s strategic plan and council’s commitment to transform Government Street, between Humboldt and Yates streets, into a pedestrian-priority area.
Cruise passengers will be driven along Dallas Road from Ogden Point to Douglas Street, where the bus will turn left then later branch off onto Blanshard Street, turn left onto a newly reinstated two-way View Street and head to Government before turning right and stopping at Yates Street.
Mayor Lisa Helps said the James Bay community has long asked the city to create different routes to and from Ogden Point. She also doesn’t believe the new dropoff point will prevent tourists from visiting lower Government Street shops.
“They have wonderful businesses and cruise ship passengers having to walk 140 metres to their front door shouldn’t dissuade those passengers from shopping at their businesses,” she said.
Sandy Black, who owns Merchant Quarters General Store at Government and Humboldt, said regardless of the distance he still thinks the city is making a mistake.
“When you look at it as a sort of guest experience, which I think Victoria should be looking at this like, people come off the cruise ship and want to see the crown jewels – the Empress, the Inner Harbour, the legislature, et cetera. Instead, what we’re doing is plunking them in the middle of retail land way up the street,” he said.
Both he and Zakreski noted many people who take cruises are older and may have health problems or difficulty walking very far.
“A lot of people may not even have an opportunity to get down to see this,” Black said.
Their concerns are represented in a motion from Couns. Stephen Andrew and Geoff Young, set to go to council Thursday (Feb. 10), that recommends Government Street remain open to cruise ship buses for at least one year.
Asked Tuesday whether she thinks there is any wiggle room on the issue, Helps said “absolutely not,” voicing a belief that business owners’ fears will be alleviated come cruise season.
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