The purchase of the former Shevlin wood yard represents “boundless” possibilities for future development in Fort Frances.
Mayor Roy Avis announced at Monday night's council meeting that the town has struck an agreement with Resolute FP Canada Inc. to purchase the 22.6 acres of land right in the middle of town, as well as the former nurses' station on Mowat Avenue, for a nominal fee.
But what will be done with the land will have to be decided by both the current and future mayor and council, as well as local citizens.
The current council can start working “in some direction” on that property, Mayor Avis told the Times. But what he sees happening, before anything is done with the property, is the town hiring a consulting firm to come up with a plan.
“We have nearly 23 acres of land and you want it to be cohesive,” the mayor remarked.
“You want to be sure if you have some commercial, some residential, that it's done in a proper manner,” he stressed.
“It's a town within a town.”
Mayor Avis also believes council should strike a committee comprised of residents and councillors to brainstorm and discuss what they feel are the best uses for the wood yard property, keeping in mind the town must create taxable assessment for the municipality to replace the tax revenue lost due to the town taking ownership of it.
Among the many possible uses for the land, Mayor Avis suggested an assisted-living facility, condominiums, a hotel, and a water park.
“But I think it's got to be planned properly," he reiterated. "We've got to take our time to develop the best thing for the community for the future.”
Meanwhile, the purchase of the former nurses' station behind the CIBC building will allow the town to open up the laneway running from one end of the 200 block of Scott Street to the other, improving access to the Rainy Lake Square, Mayor Avis noted.
Fort Frances CAO Doug Brown, who Mayor Avis said was “a key player” in striking the agreement over the course of months, noted the deal comes at a perfect time.
“I know next year the town is going to be putting in for 'Connecting Link' funding for Scott Street between Reid [Avenue] and Colonization Road East,” Brown noted.
"We're also looking at the lift stations; we're doing a study right now on the White Pine lift station and the Church [Street] lift station.
“I think going forward, the town will have to develop a long-term plan for this property which will help,” Brown said.
“It's in the centre, the core, of the town and like the mayor said, taxable assessment is important to the community to replace what we're going to lose there,” he noted.
“Once it becomes municipal property, there's no more taxes on it.”
Brown said a couple of possible uses for at least part of the wood yard property is proper parking for boats using the marina and a site for the big tent during summer events such as the bass tournament.
Brown also tipped his hat to the mayor for his hard work on the agreement.
“The mayor's done a great job in the negotiations with Resolute, and I'd like to applaud him in getting this property for a nominal fee,” he remarked.
Coun. Doug Kitowski, meanwhile, thanked Mayor Avis on behalf of council.
“It certainly makes us feel a little better seeing things are starting to progress in a positive way,” he said, adding Mayor Avis spent a lot of time speaking with Resolute and kept council up-to-date.
Coun. June Caul, who has been involved in several committees that have looked at the wood yard property for the development of assisted-living facilities, questioned whether environmental testing had been done there and it is safe to build on?
“We have been reassured by Resolute many times that there's nothing wrong with that property and they've done the environmental drilling,” Mayor Avis replied.
He added the purchase agreement will not close until Aug. 24, and the town will do its due diligence “make sure it's done right.”
“One of the things they did mention is when they do an environmental assessment, they would never sell a property that has an environmental liability,” noted Brown.
“It's against their ethics to do that,” he said.