PAPA ramps up China Creek plans

The Port Alberni Port Authority is looking at transforming China Creek Marina into a money-maker, said CEO Zoran Knezevic.

Bill and Maryann Brothers from Qualicum Beach prepare to launch their pleasure craft from China Creek Marina for an early-morning fishing trip in July 2015. The campground can be seen in the background.

The Port Alberni Port Authority is looking at transforming China Creek Marina into a money-maker, said CEO Zoran Knezevic.

“We have big plans for it,” said Knezevic.

“We have invested quite heavily in the marina basin and now we are planning to expand and invest into the campground.”

Currently, revenues from running the marina and campground only outweigh the expenses by $60,000 annually, Knezevic said.

The port authority only owns a small sliver of the marina on the west side. The rest, along with some land that includes a boat launch, cafe, showers, laundry, washrooms and some RV spots, is managed by PAPA on behalf of the province. The campground itself is owned by the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District and leased by PAPA.

“[The ACRD section] is not a revenue generating facility as of yet… we want to create a revenue generating facility,” Knezevic said.

The port authority collects $300 from camping, $190,000 from mooring and $70,000 from other sources annually. Capital and operating expenses cost PAPA $500,000 per year.

The port authority has invested over $1 million into the marina over the past five years, Knezevic added. Future expenses over the next year or two will include $100,000 on dredging, $50,000 on parking, $25,000 on washroom upgrades, $10,000 on well-water pump upgrades and $65,000 on repairing the 5.8-kilometre access road.

“We have an access road that is fairly deteriorated. It is on a steep slope and it has been patched over the years, however the water is eroding it and it requires constant Band-Aids,” he said.

China Creek needs a better access road to sustain the sort of traffic PAPA hopes to bring to the site.

“We want to create an experience that’s going to welcome families and promote China Creek and Port Alberni as a destination. I think that we have a diamond that I’d like to showcase to the world,” said PAPA manager of marina services Cecilia Addy.

“We’re looking to offer activities that are going to encourage longer visits and activities that will also invite them to want to return so they can experience more of what we have to offer.”

Addy said that the focus would be mainly on family-friendly activities.

“The BMX race track, have some rentals such as kayaks and paddleboard rentals, ecotourism, learning about the heritage of China Creek.”

In order to attract locals, Addy said that day-use activities would be a focus.

“It encourages the locals to come and enjoy us, see what we have, enjoy the beach, have a picnic… encouraging everyone to come down so that they can not only enjoy the day but tell all their friends and family and all of the people who are coming to the area what a beautiful place this is and what opportunities there are to enjoy it.”

Campground investments could include enlarging individual campsites and improving waterfront access, Addy said.

But Knezevic said that PAPA is only interested in investing into China Creek if the investment is long term.

“This is going to take some time and some financial commitment on the port’s side—a rough estimate is that we’ll spend up to half a million in the next five years,” he said.

“So we are here to ask if the regional district would consider extending our lease for another 15 years because we expect to finalize all these projects in the next five years and then we’ll have less than a decade [on their lease] and we don’t see a potential return on our investment in that short period of time.”

Currently, PAPA’s lease ends in 2029. A 15-year extension would expand that to 2044.

In response to Cherry Creek director Lucas Banton’s concerns about being stuck at the current rate for decades, Knezevic said PAPA would be open to renegotiating the price at regular intervals.

The port authority is also asking for help in fixing the access road.

“If you can help in funding… it is after all the access road to the marina, it’s not under our lease,” Knezevic.

Port Alberni Mayor Mike Ruttan said that a road was essential to upping the utilization of China Creek.

“No matter how nice you make this area, unless you can connect it by an upgraded road to the Franklin River Road, one that’s paved, its attractiveness is going to be impaired. What are the opportunities to work with other levels of government to improve that section of the road?”

Knezevic agreed.

“That is my sentiment exactly. I did try to talk to a number of stakeholders in that road and everybody would like to see it happen but no one wants to move forward.”

The ACRD board will consider PAPA’s requests and reply by the end of March.

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