Rainy River First Nations (RRFN) partnered with Fort Frances mill property owner Riverdedge Developments in early August and is exploring the feasibility of a couple different options at the mill site.
“We want to have the highest and best use which can create jobs and be financially feasible,” RRFN chief Robin McGinnis told the Times.
While RRFN doesn't anticipate the facility will be restarted for its historic purpose of producing pulp and paper, it's exploring opportunities to develop it into a hotel/casino/event centre—a tourism destination.
“This district basically has 22,000 people so naturally a casino/hotel/event centre would have to be more directed as a destination market, as oppose to building a facility, opening the doors and hoping people drop by,” reasoned Coun. Sonny McGinnis, RRFN CEO of economic development.
“It has to be built with a marketing strategy and we need to identify a market we're going to go after," he added. "That's one of the opportunities we're hoping to contemplate for this town.”
RRFN is also determining the feasibility of a cannabis growing operation that could include the cultivation of vegetables as well.
“We're looking at that aspect of it to mobilize opportunity for the surrounding farmers,” noted Coun. McGinnis.
He says RRFN is currently speaking with companies who have started cannabis growing operations and is doing a feasibility study to determine if it is a possibility going forward.
“In terms of the marijuana grow, we're not going to go into this blindly," Coun. McGinnis remarked. ”We're not going to dump a revenue stream into something that's a bottomless pit and goes belly up.
“We're going to look at it in a very concise business manner,” he added.
Chief McGinnis said their primary focus in regards to starting a cannabis growing operation is determining if the idle paper mill, that operated for roughly a century, can be remediated to meet legal cannabis regulations.
“That's our concern, right, because we would be tasked with getting it to that standard,” he noted.
Meanwhile, Coun. McGinnis told the Times that Riversegde purchased the mill for one reason: "to decommission it, but to look at re-profiling, re-purposing the asset for the economic benefit of the town.
“We've been trying to appease everybody with these false hopes that the mill is getting started again, but it's been months without anything,” he added.
“How long can they [Riversedge] keep losing money waiting for a 'pipe dream' of someone who's saying their going to make this brown paper?”
Coun. McGinnis also noted that RRFN has visited Fort Frances Mayor June Caul on at least four occasions, one of which included a tour of the mill asset and property.
He says as the waves start to settle, RRFN is looking forward to engaging the mayor of Mayor Caul to come up with a working protocol that represents the town's best interests.
“But we're not in it as a godsend, or to just contribute our money; it has to make sense for us if we invest a sizeable amount of revenue for our return,” he remarked.
"That's really where we come into it on repurposing, re-profiling the mill assets and the mill property.
“There's certain offices that can be re-profiled for residential or commercial use, that we hope to capitalize on,” Coun. McGinnis added.
He says, as a First Nation we cannot help the mayor with her election commitment to restart the idle kraft mill.
“All we want to do is explore all options and not have all our eggs in one basket. That seems like the commentary in the district—paper mill or nothing,” said Chief McGinnis.