One of the region’s best-known heritage attractions could be mothballed unless a local government assumes responsibility for the site.
The provincial government has formally offered to hand over the Keremeos Grist Mill to the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen for nothing.
“The province is effectively offering these lands free to the regional district for community and institutional use,” Richard Linzey, a manager with the B.C. Heritage Branch, told an RDOS committee.
If the RDOS doesn’t assume control, it’s likely the government will end the approximately $140,000 annual operating subsidy that allows a contractor to maintain the Grist Mill site and keep it open to the public.
“Unless a community partnership can be found, we simply look after the property and its heritage value simply as that, as property, and we don’t have any programming or outreach,” Linzey said.
Keremeos Mayor Manfred Bauer told Linzey he’d prefer to see the B.C. government retain responsibility for the site.
“I think to ask us to take it over… is just downloading responsibilities and I wouldn’t be in favour of this,” said Bauer, also an RDOS director.
“The present management is very successful. Community support is there, business support is there. The only thing that’s not there is the long-term commitment from the branch.”
Linzey replied that the provincial government is looking to team up with community partners across B.C. that can turn heritage sites into self-sufficient attractions.
However, a request for proposals issued this summer for the grist mill turned up just one offer that estimated it would take $450,000 and five years to get the site to break even.
The offer, which was not accepted, was put forward by Chris Mathieson, the current operator of the Grist Mill.
“My request and advice for whatever comes out of this is the site needs three things: It needs time, it needs money and it needs stability. Where that comes from is wide open,” he said in an interview.
Mathieson, who is under contract until spring 2015, said the Grist Mill has welcomed 6,100 visitors in 2013, triple the volume in recent years.
The RDOS in 2007 contemplated taking over the site, but a business case estimated it would take six years and $400,000 to break even.
RDOS board chair Mark Pendergraft said after the committee meeting that directors will need updated information before making a decision on the new offer.
“We’re going to have to get a bit more of a financial report on what it might cost anybody before I think there’d be a real desire to take it over,” Pendergraft said.
According to Linzey’s presentation, the two lots that compose the grist mill site are valued at $730,000.
Other options he suggested to the RDOS included selling the entire property and simply designating the buildings as heritage sites, or selling all or parts of the property and providing the funds to the RDOS for the attraction’s ongoing operation.
The Grist Milll was originally built in 1877 and has been restored such that it’s once again capable of harnessing the power of a Keremeos Creek diversion to turn grain into flour.