Call to action
There is an old story about a wagon full of hay getting stuck in the Holland Tunnel. Everyone from the mayor to the townspeople stood around watching while the engineers and planners discussed how to dislodge the wagon wedged quite firmly in the tunnel.
The lesson is simple, and yet a poignant one.
The old Rainy Lake Hotel is our proverbial wagon. It has sat disgraced and discarded for far too long—a victim of too much politics and too little action.
It has been sad to see the building’s exterior deteriorate, but the smell of decay from inside the building is almost indescribable. My office is directly beside the Rainy Lake and I assure you that it is not pleasant: the smell permeates our building and gets worse as the summer wears on.
It also is alarming to see the fire department have to enter the building in their full turnout gear. It prompts those of us who are close to the building on a daily basis to wonder about the air quality was are exposed to.
Despite this, I do not believe the suggestion of a market square is a good one. It was a plan developed a few years ago by the BIA, which paid a consultant more than $10,000 to generate this idea.
I can see why an organization would want to actively lobby to proceed with the consultant’s plan; otherwise a lot of money was spent to accomplish absolutely nothing. I guess if I spent that kind of money on a new dress and shoes, it would be a shame if I didn’t have a party to go to.
The plan sounds good on paper, but let’s take some air out of the tires and look at it again.
The demolition of the Rainy Lake Hotel is not going to be any small feat. It literally will close off downtown Fort Frances for an undetermined period of time.
Who is compensating those business owners for the time they will have to be closed and their lost revenues? Who is compensating employees who cannot come to work as it is unsafe to do so? Who pays for the damages to surrounding property during demolition?
When we lived in Manitoba, there was a similar incident where the town’s heritage hotel burned and had to be demolished. Businesses were closed, traffic was diverted, and it was a gigantic mess.
During the course of demolition, one of the contractor’s employees inadvertently hit the cornerstone of an adjacent building, which had housed a very active social lounge, with a large piece of equipment which rendered the building structurally unsafe for occupancy and resulted in that being torn down.
At the end of it all, everyone—the city, local business owners, the demolition contractor, and even insurance companies—sued everyone, and the city was left with a big hole in the ground surrounded by a large wooden fence.
•Minimizing the tax base
The Rainy Lake Hotel generated taxes, revenue, and jobs. To remove it entirely leaves a gap that other business owners will have to absorb through their taxes.
If the property can be developed in a fashion that would replace instead of remove, it would make the money spend on the property less of a cost and more of an investment.
When you have a something and turn it into a nothing, what you have left is . . . nothing.
Kenora has similar common areas which are attractive nuisances that become problematic over time. These public access areas quickly become frequented by transients and become a popular spot for the wrong kind of element.
If I were a business owner with large plate glass windows and merchandise easily within arm’s reach, I would not want this collective encouraged to hang out by my store.
Additionally, I park my vehicle behind my office along with many others who work downtown. I do not wish to find my vehicle windows smashed out just because someone wanted to take my Timmies stash of quarters and loonies in my cup holder.
The fate of the Rainy Lake Hotel has been the fodder of many discussions over many cups of coffee these last few years. I am not certain if the building is structurally sound or environmentally safe for development, but if the building can be resurrected in some capacity, why not?
It was suggested in a letter to council a year ago that the property be developed into an office building: rent out the rooms as offices to small business owners such as contractors who normally would work out of their home.
Or the property could be developed as an apartment building, providing affordable housing for our aging population who may not be able to perform the rigorous tasks that accompany home ownership, but are independent and well enough to live on their own.
What about putting the cost of demolition into the building renovations to make it, at the very least, marketable for sale?
Everything else aside, it is good to build. It sends a strong message during a questionable economic time.
We are not a large city that requires yet another green space where one can feed squirrels and admire the trees.
It is time for those who decide the fate of the Rainy Lake Hotel to make a decision that very well could be this community’s call to action—instead of Fort Frances becoming yet another town with a big hole in the ground surrounded by a large wooden fence.