The City of Port Alberni says it has picked a development partner to redevelop Somass Lands, a 43-acre waterfront property where a shuttered sawmill still stands.
Matthews West Developments Ltd. has been selected as the development partner, in a “significant milestone” that marks the next step in transforming the Harbour Road property, according to the city in a news release Tuesday.
The Somass Division mill, once operated by Western Forest Products Inc., has sat empty since 2017.
The city bought the land in 2021 for $5.3 million and, since then, has been deconstructing the building and selling off equipment.
Port Alberni’s Mayor Sharie Minions says the city is excited to announce Squamish-based Matthews West as the partner, considering “their proven track record and commitment to community input align perfectly with council’s vision…”
She says the city and the developer will “create a mixed-use site that provides public access to the waterfront, generating a vibrant waterfront community for residents and visitors to enjoy.”
On Dec. 4, Minions told CHEK News the city was working with local First Nations and had its own vision for the land, including a mixed-use residential-commercial site with possible light industrial use.
Sea level rise, floodplain and tsunami considerations were also analyzed, according to Minions. She said some of the lands would need to be built up.
“Part of our concept plan is to restore Dry Creek to its original location, so that has some renaturalizing aspects, but the site overall we expect to be a development site,” said Minions in an interview earlier this month.
The city says Tuesday’s announcement follows a “rigorous” Request for Expressions of Interest (REOI) process launched in September 2022.
It says it received 16 responses from organizations and developers, including those expressing “a diverse and significant interest” in occupying a portion of the redeveloped lands or leading the redevelopment in partnership with the city.
Ultimately, Matthews West was successful in the REOI process, and the company’s president, John Matthews, says he sees “tremendous opportunity for growth” in Port Alberni.
“We look forward to the upcoming work on the site, engaging with the community, and working hand-in-hand with the Tseshaht and the Hupacasath First Nations on this exceptional development opportunity,” said Matthews.
Mike Fox, the city’s chief administrative officer, applauds Matthews West and says city staff closely followed the company’s waterfront development process in Squamish.
“Their collaborative approach, combined with careful environmental considerations and thoughtful master planning, will ensure a sustainable and thriving redevelopment project,” he added.
In October, the Port Alberni Fire Department released video of a fire that damaged part of the former mill. Investigators believed the blaze was suspicious.