The Alberni Aquarium and Stewardship Centre will be getting a little help from the City of Port Alberni.
A week after the announcement that the aquarium would likely be closed due to a lack of funding, aquarium staff appeared before Port Alberni city council March 9, to ask for a temporary reduction in rent. The building at Harbour Quay is currently owned by the city and leased to the West Coast Aquatic Stewardship Association for just under $2,000 per month.
City CAO Tim Pley explained on Monday that the aquarium is currently two months in arrears on rent, and the current board is hoping to close the aquarium by March 29, “while they still have funds to wrap it up,” he said.
However, a new non-profit board is hoping to take over the lease.
“Our current board approached us and asked if we would like to take over the aquarium as a new non-profit,” said aquarium manager Jenny Fortin. “They thought that we would be able to apply for grants better and really focus specifically on the aquarium.”
West Coast Aquatic is “a huge umbrella,” added Fortin. “There aren’t many people on that board. They have their sights on so many things. They had high hopes on finding some partnerships, and it just didn’t come through. They’re also very busy people.”
She already has one committed board member, she explained, and paperwork for a new non-profit is being put together.
But in the meantime, she added, the biggest expenses are rent, hydro and salt (as the aquarium makes its own salt water).
“We need some help,” said Fortin. “We need time and a little support.”
Councillor Dan Washington suggested giving the aquarium three months of free rent.
“I think this is an integral part of our education and that it’s also part of our future,” he said. “This is something we should have a hard look at.”
Mayor Sharie Minions said she was concerned about the “long-term sustainability” of the aquarium and requested a business plan for the aquarium’s path going forward. “I’m not opposed to the three months,” she added. “I just want to make sure…three months is the start of a long future.”
Council agreed on Monday to grant the three months rent-free, subject to receiving a financial plan from the aquarium moving forward.
Fortin said after the meeting on Monday that she felt “very positive” about council’s response.
“I’m glad they see the importance of the aquarium,” she said.
The support from the community, she added, has been “overwhelming” so far. As of Monday, the aquarium’s GoFundMe account had raised more than $2,000. Local businesses—including the Blue Marlin Inn, Bosley’s and various Harbour Quay merchants—have also stepped up to help fundraise.
The aquarium will be holding a fundraising day on Sunday, March 22 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.