The former E&N Train Station is located at Argyle Street and Harbour Road. NEWS FILE PHOTO

Port Alberni looks to sell or lease out heritage train station

(By MIKE YOUDS and ELENA RARDON)

City staff in Port Alberni will prepare a request for proposals to buy or lease the city’s heritage train station after getting a nod Monday from council.

The city’s move comes after architect Will King examined the building and advised council that a costly seismic upgrade would be required if major rehabilitation were undertaken. King also pointed to the need for roof repairs and improvements to insulation and heating.

Councillors voted unanimously to consider private proposals in the interest of sparing taxpayers the expense of the seismic work. The option of entering into a 99-year lease was included as an amendment, recognizing the train station’s heritage value and a desire to retain city ownership.

“I would kind of like to see what shakes out of this and maybe we can come with something better for everyone,” said Councillor Ron Paulson.

The heritage railway’s ticket office will remain in the building even if it is sold. In the meantime, the roof needs attention.

“Regardless of what we do with the train station, I think we should fix the roof issue first,” said Coun. Dan Washington. “It’s got to be done sooner rather than later.”

In a related motion that was also approved, Coun. Debbie Haggard requested that staff review the city’s heritage bylaw. The train station is the only city-owned building that falls under the bylaw. “I think that’s a good opportunity for more community engagement,” said Mayor Sharie Minions.

Including a lease option in the request for proposals gives proponents the most flexibility, she added.

In his appearance before a committee of the whole on July 15, King suggested a “rehabilitation” of the train station—making contemporary use of a place while still protecting its historic value. The surrounding area also needs to be rehabilitated in order to make this sustainable. He drew comparisons to other industrial waterfront areas, such as Granville Island in Vancouver, the Duncan Garage and even Pike Place in Seattle, and suggested that Port Alberni can offer the same type of attraction in the Harbour Quay area.

“Great industrial infrastructure…can bring vibrancy that will attract people from all over the world,” he explained.

He offered a few suggestions, from a rooftop patio over the truck garage to blocking off traffic on part of Argyle Street to create a pedestrian focused area.

Members of council agreed that doing nothing isn’t an option.

“It’s not just a train station, it’s the linchpin,” Paulson said. “If we don’t take care of it, we’re in danger of losing it.”

City CAO Tim Pley said a potential redevelopment of the train station wouldn’t necessarily affect future operation of the trains.

“There’s no reason why it would affect operation of the trains,” he said. “The deck and the rails for the train would remain in place. There’s no plan to remove those.”

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