New West arcade proposal put on hold

A Surrey man has encountered another hurdle in his quest to help gamers go back in time.

Brad Eyers believes an arcade featuring video games from the 1970s to 1990s would be a destination for 35 to 50 year olds who grew up playing games like Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and Burgertime, but he’s hit another snag to opening his business. New Westminster city council was set to consider the temporary-use permit at its June 26 meeting, but the application was suspended after Eyers was unable to reach a lease agreement with the property owner.

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“It was perfect. Everything on our checklist got checked off. The only thing that didn’t was I wanted an old brick building, but it was still a 1950’s building. It was an old gas station in the ‘50s,” he said. “It was a cool space."

In May, city council issued notice that it would consider a temporary-use permit for 425 East Columbia St., which would allow an amusement arcade to occupy the existing commercial space until July 15, 2019. The city proposed a temporary use permit, during which time it could assess conditions being imposed: no liquor service; no gambling; age-appropriate games; and operating hours of 6 a.m. to midnight.

“The temporary-use permit is suspended. I have already been looking in other areas,” Eyers said of spaces in Langley, Port Moody and North Vancouver. “New Westminster, for me, is still the best.”

Eyers, who has a collection of more than 100 classic arcade games for the business, said he hasn’t written New West off completely , but has scaled back his efforts to find a space in the city because he can’t wait until the fall to get a proposal before city council. After its July 10 meeting, council doesn’t meet again until Aug. 28.

“What’s happening now is instead of being 110 per cent trying to find a space, I am 15 per cent looking for a space because even if I get one there’s no way I am going to be able to hold it till the fall anyways,” he said of potential spaces to lease.

Earlier this year, the city was set to consider changes to the regulations for amusement arcades in various bylaws as a way of mitigating any potential concerns, but withdrew the item from a public hearing at the last minute after learning the applicant and the Downtown New Westminster Business Improvement Association were concerned it was too restrictive. Eyers has since met with the mayor and city staff and discussed the idea of a temporary-use permit.

Arcades have been banned in New Westminster since 1999, when they attracted complaints about noise, hours of operations and nuisance behaviours of their patrons.

“The temporary-use permit would be for a two-year term and would not permit liquor sales,” said a staff report. “However, the applicant would be interested in offering liquor sales. As such, staff recommends that after the business is operating successfully without negative impacts for approximately a year-and-a-half that the applicant apply for an amendment to the zoning bylaw to allow for a liquor establishment in conjunction with the arcade use. This would allow adequate time for the business to establish that it has successfully mitigated any negative externalities and allowed time for the rezoning application to be process prior to the temporary use permit expiring. “

Eyers said he is willing to open the business without alcohol service for the time being to get it up and running. He’s said it’s hard to battle the perceived stigma of arcades from years ago.

“My thing is they are against the form factor,” he said. “They have multiple stores in New Westminster that buy and sell video games. You can go and play video games in pubs. There is no difference between what they are doing and I am doing except it is a big box you stand in front of. It’s the form factor they are fighting against.”

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