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Exchange District parking battle continues as proposed rate cut heads to Winnipeg budget group

Business owners in the Exchange District, including Shawarma Khan owner Obby Khan, are calling for parking rates to be cut.
Business owners in the Exchange District, including Shawarma Khan owner Obby Khan, are calling for parking rates to be cut. Shane Gibson/Global News

The City of Winnipeg is moving forward with its plan to cut parking rates in the Exchange District, but area business owners say the move is not enough.

Council pushed the proposed 50-cent cut to the budget process following a meeting with business owners from the historic district on Tuesday.

Obby Khan, owner of Shawarma Khan restaurant, has been an outspoken critic of the city’s handling of the Exchange District parking controversy.

Area business owners have complained that recent changes made to the streets — in particular, new bike lanes that have taken over parking spots and loading zones, as well as an increase in parking fees — have been bad for business.

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Khan told 680 CJOB the city needs to take action sooner rather than later before businesses are forced to move.

“They were supposed to present a plan and the data and the analysis last year, 2019, and then council asked for an extension until October 2020,” Khan said. “I, frankly, said: ‘That is unacceptable.’

“I made it very clear: businesses are closing in the Exchange,” he said. “We cannot wait until October 2020 for an analysis … and then what, we have to wait another 20 months for them to come up with a plan?”

Exchange District business owner Obby Khan.
Exchange District business owner Obby Khan. Global News / File

Khan told Global News in November that many of his fellow business owners were reporting a 20 to 30 per cent drop in business and that he had personally lost “six figures” since losing street parking across from his McDermot Avenue restaurant two years ago.

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“The 50 cents is not going to cut it. $3.50 to $3.00 is nothing,” he said.

“We need to go back to the original rates of $2 an hour, which it was before 2017, and businesses were booming… everything was great.”

Six weeks ago, Exchange District business owners sent a petition to city hall asking for changes to issues like parking rates, bike lane placement and more to prevent further impact on shoppers in the area.

St. Boniface Coun. Matt Allard, chair of the city’s infrastructure and public works committee, told 680 CJOB the message delivered by Khan and his fellow business owners was received “loud and clear” and that a motion in line with their request was passed Tuesday by the committee for consideration by the budget working group.

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But he cautioned it’s not as simple as just chopping parking costs.

“It does come with a pretty hefty price tag,” he said.

“We heard from the public service that if we go forward with this as part of the budget working group recommendations, because of some technical issues, it would have to be a citywide application and it looks like it would have a price tag of about $2 million to the operating budget.”

READ MORE: Exchange District business owners fed up over ‘piecemeal’ development in the area

Allard said the increase in parking fees make sense from the perspective of a “mode shift” encouraging Winnipeggers to increasingly use transit and active transportation to get around.

“As we’re growing as a city and we’re encouraging ways to get people out of single-passenger automobile trips and using transit and active transportation as modes of transport… right now, it sort of makes sense to me that you pay a bit more if you’re parking, you pay a bit less to take the bus and you pay nothing if you’re walking or cycling,” he said.

“From a mode-shift perspective, I think the current regime is right, but today, we heard from the businesses what that parking means to them, and so we’ll be considering that along with all of the budget considerations.”

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Click to play video 'Obby Khan and other Exchange District business owners petition city hall for change' Obby Khan and other Exchange District business owners petition city hall for change
Obby Khan and other Exchange District business owners petition city hall for change