A new aquatic stewardship centre could be set to open at Harbour Quay this summer if city council amends a zoning bylaw permitting such a use.
During a public hearing on Monday, March 30, council heard a proposal from West Coast Aquatic to amend the “waterfront commercial” zone to include stewardship centres as one of its uses.
West Coast Aquatic intends to take over the space vacated by Clock Tower Gallery last year, in the Marine building at the quay.
City planner Scott Smith said the rezoning would not impact any of the other businesses in the building or others zoned as waterfront commercial.
“The proposed centre is an excellent fit with the overall Harbour Quay and would be an important addition to the Alberni Valley that would be of interest to tourists and residents alike,” Smith said. “The stewardship centre would highlight and educate on a very important natural resource in the Alberni Valley.”
Sheena Falconer, project manager for the WCA Stewardship Association, said the aquarium would include eight tanks and mimic the life cycle of salmon and other aquatic life.
“The vision is to look at it like it’s the life of salmon, so starting out in fresh water and then go along the outside edge of the space and take you from freshwater species to estuary species to beach species down to ocean levels.”
According to a WCA press release, the $370,000 project will be funded with $140,000 worth of grants from the Island Coastal Economic Trust, with the other funding sources to be determined in the coming weeks.
During the public hearing, Falconer told council that “the tanks are designed to be quite interactive so that people can pop their heads up into the tanks and fish will be swimming around them.”
The centre will be interactive and include tablets, microphones and the chance to interact with live specimens to fully engage visitors.
Smith said that the new stewardship centre would require “extensive renovations to the inside of the building.
“The centre will serve as a launch pad to learn about interpretive trails and other attractions and excursions in the Alberni Valley and Barkley Sound area.”
The stewardship centre will be open year round “but the displays will change periodically, both for peoples’ interests coming in to see the displays and also to reflect the needs of the animals at certain times throughout the season.”
Falconer assured council that the stewardship centre would operated “to the highest ethical standard of animal care, so I think everyone can feel good about what happens there.”
Although they’ve had a few delays, Falconer said that WCA is hoping to have the stewardship centre open sometime this summer.