The City of Port Alberni is looking for someone who is interested in leasing the city’s heritage train station.
The city last looked at the train station back in July of 2019, when architect Will King presented a report to council and advised them that a costly seismic upgrade was needed for the city-owned train station. In order to spare taxpayers the expense of the seismic work, city council directed staff to pepare a request for proposals (RFP) to buy or lease the train station.
City CAO Tim Pley brought a draft RFP to council on Monday, July 13. The draft, he explains, only speaks to the lease of the building. Staff ultimately decided that retaining ownership of the building was important, as the train station is the only city-owned piece of property within city limits that has formal heritage status.
However, Pley recommended modifying the draft RFP document further and turning it into a request for expressions of interest (EOI). An EOI only requires letters of interest and qualifications, while an RFP requires detailed bids.
“Given where we are with COVID and the uncertainty around investment and business, we’re thinking that we might not get the kind of proposals we would have gotten a year ago when council envisioned this project,” explained Pley.
Mayor Sharie Minions wanted to look at the parking lot lands attached to the train station. During last year’s presentation, council discussed the possibility of subdividing that land and selling it to build a multi-family development.
“From my perspective, we’re maybe going about this in the wrong order,” said Minions. “In order to attract a really quality business, we need to make sure that the lands around are properly utilized first.”
Councillor Ron Corbeil disagreed. “We’ve tried to put out requests for proposals for other lands, arguably nicer lands, and we weren’t overly successful,” he said. “I would prefer to see us go ahead with the expressions of interest and just see what’s out there.”
“We can always say no in the end, it’s just an expression of interest,” added Councillor Cindy Solda.
Minions said she was concerned about the potential cost of seismic upgrades to taxpayers.
“If someone is leasing [the train station] from us, I think it’s likely that we are going to have a significant cost,” she pointed out. “If we were able to sell some land, we could finance the improvements through that.”
Council ultimately agreed to alter the RFP document to an EOI on Monday. The parking lot lands next to the train station will be discussed at the next meeting of council on July 27, 2020.