The Uchucklesaht First Nation has purchased the Rusty Anchor Inn, formerly known as the Somass Hotel, in uptown Port Alberni.
The sale finalized on July 31, said Scott Coulson, the Uchucklesaht First Nation’s chief administration officer and director of finance.
“We’re going to be renovating the entire building,” he said.
The Uchucklesaht plan to transform the building into their new administrative home and cultural centre; they are presently occupying a building on the Hupacasath Reserve on River Road.
“Now that we’re treaty we don’t have to be on the reserve anymore,” Coulson said. The Uchucklesaht are one of five nations of the Maa-nulth Treaty.
Chris Ashby of Appello Properties Inc. previously owned the Somass, and renamed it the Rusty Anchor Inn after purchasing it in 2006-07. In 2012 he renamed it Somass Station Inn and tried to make the restaurant and lounge more upscale. However, a fire in one of the hotel rooms upstairs forced Ashby to close parts of the establishment and fix the fire damage
Ashby could not be reached for comment on the sale.
“This is a very exciting time for the Uchucklesaht Tribe government as we move forward with economic development,” Chief Charlie Cootes said in a statement. “After construction is complete this building will be home for our government and administration, will create a cultural home for our citizens and assist in creating employment and training opportunities for all of our people.”
The current hotel is home to three bars and 42 apartments, many of them “uninhabitable,” Coulson said. The Uchucklesaht plans to reconfigure the rooms into 23 good-sized apartments.
When the estimated $3 million project is complete, the building will also have government facilities, administration offices, boardrooms (some of which will be available for public rental) and retail space. The cultural centre will including a carving room and gallery at the back of the building, where a strip bar was located, Coulson said.
The tribe will consider re-opening the restaurant, previously called Timbers, Coulson said. The new building might also provide a training facility for First Nation people, he added.
The Somass Hotel has a long history in the Alberni Valley, dating back more than 100 years. It opened at the corner of Argyle Street and Kingsway Avenue in 1908, at a time when the waterfront was developing along the Alberni Inlet. The original wooden Somass burned down in 1947.
Coulson said the Somass is in a great location for people of the Uchucklesaht that come in by boat from the village and land at Harbour Quay.
“So we’re really close to where the people are coming in,” he said.
Coulson said the tribe still has five months of engineering work ahead of them before they can even think of putting out tenders for the renovation work. He estimates the renovations won’t be complete for a year.