Sisters Julie and Farley Brack, both junior scientists with the Alberni Aquarium and Stewardship Centre, feed Simone the wolf eel and other fish in her tank during one of their volunteer sessions in February 2020. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

Alberni Aquarium unveils business plan to keep afloat

New board asks City of Port Alberni for rent relief to get through COVID-19 shutdown

The new Alberni Aquarium Association has submitted its business plan to the city of Port Alberni in the hopes of keeping the city’s aquarium alive.

After the aquarium’s previous board (run by West Coast Aquatic) announced plans to close permanently at the end of March, a new non-profit was formed to take over the aquarium. The Aquarium Association originally asked the city for a three-month reprieve from rent in order to get up and running, but this was before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the aquarium to close its doors to the public.

READ MORE: Port Alberni’s aquarium to get reprieve

During a council meeting on Tuesday, April 14, the association asked for a further three months’ reprieve.

“Because there is a pandemic, we can’t keep our doors open or fundraise,” explained fundraising manager Colton Nelson. “We are looking for some support for the time of the pandemic, until we can open up our doors again.”

While the aquarium has been closed, the new association has been holding some “minor fundraising,” said Nelson, such as tank sponsorships. The association also has also been in talks with educational organizations and local businesses about partnership opportunities.

The aquarium is working on a “shoestring” budget—just enough to keep the animals in its tanks alive.

“We are meeting fundraising efforts to meet our bare needs, which is about $3,000 to keep the fish alive,” said Nelson.

Council voted on Tuesday to provide some rent relief to Harbour Quay merchants, including the Alberni Aquarium, by waiving interest payments on city leases, but was not sure about giving the aquarium another three months’ reprieve from rent.

READ MORE: City of Port Alberni provides relief for water, sewer payments

The business plan for the new association (which is available on the city’s website) includes a number of planned fundraisers, grants, partnerships and government funding, although much of this has been delayed by COVID-19.

“We have a new push towards education and working with the community to bring in funds,” explained Nelson.

Councillor Cindy Solda expressed concern about the aquarium’s reliance on fundraising, but Councillor Ron Paulson said he was “pleased” with the new business plan.

“I particularly like your new marketing approach, which is far more aggressive than it has been in the past,” said Paulson.

The Aquarium Association also had plans to lease its top floor (including a board room and office) to help with paying rent. The top floor of the aquarium—which has a separate entrance—was previously being leased by West Coast Aquatic Stewardship Association. Now that West Coast Aquatic has moved to a new location, the new aquarium association is looking to rent out the office and board room upstairs to help subsidize their rent.

However, council expressed some concern about this plan.

“I do worry about the precedent of potentially allowing a tenant to sub-lease space at a higher lease rate than they’re paying us,” said Mayor Sharie Minions. “I think it sends the message that the city is leasing our space out under market value.”

Council proposed taking back the upstairs space and renting it out through the city, while reducing the aquarium’s rent rate accordingly. City staff will come back to council at the next meeting with a report about whether or not this will be feasible, after which council will enter into a new lease with the aquarium and make a decision about rental reprieve.

Although the aquarium’s fundraising ability has been limited by COVID-19, the aquarium’s GoFundMe is still open and accepting donations. If you are interested in sponsoring a tank to help keep the animals alive, call 250-206-0356.

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