A new pod of food trucks cropped up this summer along the waterfront in Port Alberni, and owners of the site are hoping it becomes an attraction for residents and visitors alike.
Clutesi Haven Marina, located on Highway 4 along the Somass River, has been a topic of interest in Port Alberni for years. It was the site of the Port Alberni Salmon Festival for 45 years, and it was also used by Hupacasath First Nation for their Sunset Market. Although the area is primarily a marina, the Port Alberni Port Authority (PAPA) and the city have both been looking for a way to expand on the site with a development that will draw more people to stop in Port Alberni on their way out to the West Coast.
PAPA has issued a request for proposals (RFP) for the site, but so far no development has been approved.
“We started looking at small, incremental changes and opportunities that would fit in with the primary usage of the marina,” explained David McCormick, director of business development with PAPA. “Often the small, incremental steps make for a big change and lasting opportunities. We see [Clutesi Haven Marina] as a long-term opportunity.”
The idea for a food truck pod came out of a meeting last summer between the city, PAPA and Tseshaht First Nation to talk about utilization of the location. Food trucks have parked at Clutesi Haven Marina in past summers, but never as part of a hub.
“We’ve always been encouraging a higher and better use for the site,” said Pat Deakin, economic development manager with the City of Port Alberni. “We’ve been looking for a ‘marquee attraction’ for the area. This proposal seemed to make sense.”
A few years ago, the city tried to start a food truck cluster on Centennial Pier, but the location didn’t work for a number of reasons—there was too much wind, and parking was difficult. The city gave it another try at Tyee Landing, but Deakin said there wasn’t much take up on it.
“Part of what’s going on now, with the pandemic and regulations around distancing, means more people are looking for takeout options,” said Deakin. “That’s when we began receiving enquiries from food trucks and trailers.”
Port Alberni Arabian Kebab was the first food truck to set up at the marina, but Emiliano’s Authentic Mexican Food and Mr. Chips followed shortly after. The vendors seem to like the area, said Deakin.
“It’s very visible, with a lot of traffic going by,” he said. “The little park area is very attractive. It’s a beautiful site.”
McCormick described Clutesi Haven Marina as a “jewel” with a lot of history.
“It’s something that we want to share with the rest of the world that’s been driving past,” he said.
The site is owned by the city and leased to PAPA. But Clutesi Haven Marina, said Tseshaht councillor Ken Watts, is an “important site” for Tseshaht First Nation, and Watts wants to incorporate a Tseshaht presence. The marina was named after the late George Clutesi, a Tseshaht artist and, fittingly, Watts is hoping to bring some First Nations artwork into the area.
It may be a small thing but it's a big, bold, bright colourful change and hint of things to come from our partnership with @Tseshaht & @cityportalberni to enhance the visitor experience at Clutesi Haven Marina ….stay tuned #ExplorePortAlberni pic.twitter.com/f7gYnTXWsI
— PAPA (@PAPortAuthority) September 25, 2020
“We’ve been talking to different artists, and we’re hoping to do some nice artwork to get some attention there,” said Watts.
In the meantime, Watts said he has also been reaching out to other food trucks.
“We need to utilize that space,” he said. “Right now it’s been connecting the dots and helping to bring in the people.”
All three partners—the city, PAPA and Tseshaht—would like to see the site turn into something larger and more permanent next year. They discussed the possibility of an outdoor “marketplace” with food and craft vendors.
“We’re hoping that the food pod will grow and we’ll have some more vendors down there,” Deakin said. “Our long-term goal is to attract more investment to the site, and we can eventually end up with that marquee attraction that we’ve been looking for for several years.”
With more investment, said Deakin, the city will be able to add more site improvements to give it some vibrancy—things like picnic tables, artwork and a covered shelter. PAPA and the city have already added a few improvements, including improved connections for water and paving of the gravel area.
McCormick said he wants create a park environment, while also maintaining the location’s primary usage as a marina.
“It’s a hopping, busy marina,” said McCormick. “It’s a favourite spot for residents to have a coffee, reconnect or watch the bears. We want to improve on that, and make something that builds on all the favourite reasons that people go down to Clutesi.”
“We all agree that we need to do more to stop people in Port Alberni,” said Watts. “This is one of the ways to do that.”