The City of Port Alberni has agreed to spend $25,000 to help bring food services to McLean Mill following a recommendation brought forward by the McLean Mill Society board of directors.
During council’s Nov. 14 meeting, the Western Vancouver Island Industrial Heritage Society, which operates McLean Mill under contract for the city, made a request of $55,000 to cover a shortfall in 2016 related to the costs of installing a kitchen in the mill. Council then requested that the board of directors for the newly formed McLean Mill Society make a recommendation after the IHS’s request.
Bill Collette and Sheena Falconer of the new McLean Mill Society presented to City Council on Dec. 12, although members of the IHS were in the room.
Collette recommended that the city pay $15,000 to the commercial kitchen vendor, which represents a payment due by Dec. 31, and pay a further $10,000 to the IHS to compensate them for the down payment they made for the commercial kitchen. The board of management had no further recommendation for the Nov. 14 request for funds.
Collette emphasized the necessity of a kitchen for the future of the mill. He brought up a Commonwealth Historic Resource Management Report dated Nov. 1993 that recommended food services for the site. “This was a recommendation 24 years ago. When I look at that report, I see a lot of the same stuff that we’ve talked about for the last two years,” said Collette.
“To me, personally, it’s a reasonable purchase,” he went on. “What we are missing there today if we really want to grow McLean Mill is food services.”
Collette said he felt confident that the kitchen could be renegotiated with the current vendors.
“I do think that there are some holes in the agreement right now that didn’t happen that we were all led to believe would happen,” he said.
Council was divided on the issue. Mayor Mike Ruttan was skeptical and argued, “The kitchen is not a money-making service unless you book it in advance.” He suggested stepping away from the project and re-looking at costs before putting down any money.
“I just feel like we’re moving way too fast and spending way too much money,” he said.
Councillor Jack McLeman, the council liaison for the McLean Mill board of management, made a motion to meet the recommendation of the board with the request that they renegotiate the terms of the kitchen and make sure it’s viable. He made this motion on the terms that the kitchen is not a “non-value kitchen.”
“The board of management has said they will be responsible to the budget to make sure the city is not charged for things they shouldn’t be charged for,” he went on. “Their job is and their mandate is to reduce the subsidy that the city puts into the McLean Mill. I think they should be given that chance to go at it.”
Mayor Ruttan acknowledged, “It’s not a simple decision. I recognize that everybody is trying to make this work and I recognize the need for it.
“But I also recognize that there are so many unknowns of the costs here. So we’re kind of jumping off a cliff and hoping that we’re going to land on something soft.”
The motion was carried after some debate, but one member of the public was not happy. Jim Del Rio stepped forward during the question period to make his dissatisfaction known.
He reiterated that there is no money in the restaurant business. “They do need food services out there, but not to the extent that they’re going,” he said.
“Because that’s a four-month business. And they have to staff it.”