With a new board of management set to take over direction of McLean Mill, the mill’s future has numerous possibilities.
Port Alberni Chamber of Commerce executive director Bill Collette spoke on behalf of the McLean Mill Society during the Chamber of Commerce dinner meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 30, and brought forward some of his ideas for the mill.
“We’re looking at rebranding,” Collette said on Wednesday evening. “We see it evolving into a new brand.”
The tagline for Collette’s vision was “more than just a sawmill.” He sees the McLean Mill as a top three Vancouver Island attraction–with the right time and effort put into it.
Turning the site into a park, rather than a mill, he believes, will garner more interest. One of Collette’s biggest goals is keeping the mill open all year round.
Collette brought up a number of ideas for attractions to the park, including a forest walk, pump cars and a train through the property, repurposing the old barn, keeping up permanent displays all year round, wedding opportunities, school and education programs and campgrounds.
The challenge, says Collette, is finding creative ways to bring people out to the mill. Public events can garner interest, like the No. 7 Challenge: an event where participants run from the train station to McLean Mill alongside the steam train route. Last year there were 204 registrants.
“We had lots of fun,” Collette said. “People enjoyed it.”
A food services program, said Collette, would be necessary for year-round events.
“I believe that food services are absolutely critical to the future of it,” he said.
Collette wants to see the mill’s kitchen finished, but also brought up the idea of a courtyard patio where people can enjoy the property while they eat. “If I’m going to be part of this committee, I’m going to say ‘let’s do it!’ We’ve got the property, we’ve got the environment,” said Collette. “So why can’t we do it?”
He sees the mill turning into more of a tourist attraction rather than having it run as a working mill all year round.
“We’d like to see it evolve into more of a visual environment,” he said. “We’d like to see it open to the public.”
Most of these ideas are a few years into the future, but Collette says many of them are within their budget. “A forest walk in the trees is definitely doable,” he said. “We are not going to break the bank to do this.”
He acknowledged that the mill in the past has been a drain on Port Alberni resources, and the new McLean Mill Society will aim to be transparent about where their money is spent. “We know we have to fix that,” Collette said.
During Port Alberni City Council’s organizational meeting at city hall on Monday, three final directors were added to the McLean Mill Society, bringing the total to seven directors.
Mayor Mike Ruttan says the eventual goal of the board is financial independence.
Collette completed his presentation on Wednesday by confirming that the McLean Mill needs to undergo a transformation. “Things need to change,” Collette finished. “I’m going to work really hard for this committee.”