The city of Port Alberni has entered into a three-year agreement with the Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce for the operation of McLean Mill.
The city put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) last year for the operation of the McLean Mill National Historic Site and received three proposals. The Chamber’s proposal “most closely” met the city’s goals, said parks, recreation and heritage manager Willa Thorpe during a Monday, Jan. 27 meeting of council.
The city will pay the chamber $150,000 in 2020 to operate the non-historic zone of the McLean Mill National Historic Site, which includes the visitor’s centre, gift shop, front office, courtyard, parking lots and the treed area bound by the courtyard, parking lot, train tracks and historic zone.
City staff are in control of all historical assets.
The new agreement is for a three-year term, with the option of renewing it for an additional three years.
“We need to give an operator the opportunity to get some traction and have some success at that site,” explained Thorpe.
A 10 percent heritage fee will be applied to every transaction collected by the chamber of commerce at the mill. The chamber will provide this fee annually back to the city, and the city will use the fee to assist with the preservation of the heritage site.
In a later interview, Chamber of Commerce CEO Bill Collette said that the chamber applied to operate the McLean Mill because it saw a “need” in the community.
“We believe that the McLean Mill should be operating as a tourist attraction,” he explained. “We saw the fact that it was struggling in 2019. It didn’t seem to have the funding or infrastructure to operate in the way we’d like to see it operating.”
In its application, the chamber identified five key areas of business at McLean Mill—food services, the gift shop, event management and the campground. Collette said he would also like to see tours operating throughout the Alberni Valley in the future.
“This was just announced on Monday,” he said. “That’s a whole lot of planning to do in the next few months. We couldn’t really plan until it was announced. We’re basically developing a whole business model out there.”
On Monday, council discussed the fact that McLean Mill is located within the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). A letter from Beaver Creek resident and former McLean Mill Society bookkeeper Susan Roth pointed out that the city is not following ALR regulations for gatherings. The Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) policy states that “no more than 150 people may be in attendance and events must be less than 24 hours in duration.”
The Five Acre Shaker music festival, which has taken place at McLean Mill for the last three years, is one of the events that could conflict with this rule.
City CAO Tim Pley said that he has been corresponding with the ALC about McLean Mill, and will come back to council with a report.
Councillor Cindy Solda voted against the agreement with McLean Mill on Monday, stating that she wants to see something in writing from the ALC stating that the city is not breaking any rules.
“We need to do a little more homework before we go forward,” said Solda.