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Outdoor restaurant patios 'make-or-break' for Wolf Street businesses

“Wolf Street needs more love and it needs more support and I think this is a really good way to do that,” said Coun. Grant Canning.
20220701 Banff Canada Day 1
Pedestrians enjoy the Banff Avenue pedestrian zone on Canada Day 2022. GREG COLGAN RMO PHOTO

BANFF – As Banff’s popular downtown pedestrian zone is scheduled to reopen on May 19, restaurant owners on Wolf Street say outdoor patios in the busy summer season are a make-or-break venture.

So when news broke that contractor estimates for the Town of Banff to build the patio platforms on Wolf Street had come in $38,000 above the $60,400 budget, businesses rallied to convince council to spend the additional dollars.

Ron Sachkiw, one of the owners of Earls, fears tourists would simply head to the popular Banff Avenue pedestrian zone, which is lined with outdoor restaurant patios, taking needed business away from Wolf Street.

“My biggest issue is my ability to compete with restaurants that do have patios, and I am not talking small patios, I am talking large patios on Banff Avenue,” he said.

“For us, the revenue stream from our patios is between $30,000 to $40,000 a week and to lose that stream is going to hurt us a lot … it’s a make-or-break for us.”

Craig Paton, managing partner of Alloway Hospitality Management, which oversees operations at St. James’ Gate Olde Irish Pub, said not having access to outdoor patios would mean a “substantial loss in sales.”

He said hiring and training staff for the busy season has started and the company has already invested thousands of dollars in furniture, plants, planters, communication devices and programs.

“The only fair decision is to find the money to make sure that the businesses on Wolf Street have some opportunity to compete,” he said in a letter to council.

Council unanimously voted to fund the $38,000 budget shortfall from the economic recovery reserve, which now has an undedicated balance of $77,852.

“Wolf Street needs more love and it needs more support and I think this is a really good way to do that,” said Coun. Grant Canning at the May 8 council meeting.

Banff and Lake Louise Tourism and Banff Lake Louise Hospitality Association said Banff’s businesses are still recovering from the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wanda Bogdane, executive director of Banff and Lake Louise Hospitality Association, said two of Canada’s leading tourism bodies verified last week that the tourism sector has much further to go until “we’re out of the woods."

She said a report commissioned by the Tourism Industry Association of Alberta confirmed that only two per cent of industry businesses have been able to repay their CEBA loans to the federal government so far – because they’re still in the trenches of mass debt repayment.  
In addition, Bogdane said the total accumulated revenue loss for Banff’s accommodation sector from March 2020 until February 2022 was approximately $534 million.  
“This directly impacts and is a reflection of the losses in food and beverage over this period,” she said.

Dave Michaels, manager of development services for the Town of Banff, said administration knows the ideal timeline for patios to be up and running is the May long weekend, but it might not be possible at this point.

“We’ll definitely get things moving as quickly as possible and our hope would definitely be by June,” he said.