Mill could attract tourists: McLeman

A campground, increased food sales and better marketing were among the list of recommendations from the McLean Mill advisory committee.

A campground, increased food sales and better marketing were among the list of recommendations from the McLean Mill advisory committee to city council.

Committee chair Rob Duncan was in front of city council on Nov. 30 to report on the progress that the committee has made so far.

“This report represents the initial findings of the advisory committee,” said Duncan.

The committee was formed shortly after the 2014 municipal election to review the mill’s operations and structure, provide oversight and make recommendations for the mill’s future.

The committee focused on five areas; governance, facility, revenue, funding and marketing.

Duncan acknowledged that although McLean Mill National Historic Site was currently funded by taxes on Alberni Valley residents, that wasn’t an ideal situation.

“Currently, the McLean Mill National Historic Site is extensively  subsidized by the city of Port Alberni, primarily through taxation of area residents,” said Duncan.

“This subsidy has decreased to under $225,000 in recent years.”

Currently, the McLean Mill subsidy from the city sits at $224,000—that’s  down from $239,000 in 2014 and from $575,625 in 2005, according to city budgets.

However, that only takes into account operating costs and the city budgeted $25,000 for capital projects at the mill in 2015, down from $39,900 in 2014.

Council liaison to the committee Coun. Jack McLeman was optimistic about the mill’s future.

“The mill and the train can be made into a real tourist attraction, even in a town like ours that’s at the end of the spur line,” McLeman said after the meeting.

He believes that the committee’s recommendation of putting in a campground is one that the city should explore.

“A campground is something that could be a profit maker and contribute to the mill if it’s done right,” said McLeman.

He did admit that the mill was unlikely to ever run huge profits.

“You’ll never get an industrial heritage place on a big profit show,” he said.

“We’re trying something entirely different—we’re trying to make it where it can at least break even.”

According to Duncan, in order for the mill to get a “net-zero” operation, the committee recommended that McLean Mill be managed by a new board of directors.

“[McLean Mill] is a large operation with great potential that we feel would be best served by a board of directors,” said Duncan.

“We recommend  that the board create a not-for-profit society—Friends of McLean Mill—that would apply for external funding,” Duncan told city council, noting that other historic sites receive revenue from municipal, provincial and federal grants as well as society support.

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