Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Getting casino here back on table

Could a casino be a solution to changing the face of Fort Frances’ economy?
Coun. Ken Perry thinks so.

At a special meeting yesterday afternoon to review the town’s strategic plan, Coun. Perry said Fort Frances has to pursue getting a casino in this area.
With the future of the mill uncertain and a massive loss of tax revenue from the pending reassessment of the mill property looming over the town’s head, Coun. Perry noted he doesn’t see any other way to boost revenues in the short-term and to get the 640,000 people who cross the border here every year to stop and stay a while in Fort Frances.
“I think we need to pursue it as much as we can,” he stressed.
“I am fully in favour of pursuing it with First Nations and any and every other municipality.”
Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig suggested Mayor Roy Avis approach various potential stakeholders about “a meeting of the minds and coming together with a focused effort.”
But McCaig noted a big problem is this area has not been identified as a potential site for a casino.
The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. (OLG) has been reviewing where new casinos could be located. Twenty-nine sites have been identified, with Kenora as a possible site in Northwestern Ontario.
“Everything is going there [Kenora]. Something’s got to come here—we need something,” McCaig stressed.
“We need the government to do something for us in Fort Frances, so I think right now, our best opportunity is, in conjunction with the First Nations, to approach the government and say, ‘Hey man, we just took a hit.’
“We need you to throw us something here, we need some help,” he reasoned.
“I am really surprised that we weren’t picked, being on the border,” said Coun. Paul Ryan.
Fort Frances is one of the few border crossings in Ontario that doesn’t have a casino, agreed Coun. Perry, noting that unlike other border communities with casinos, there is not even any nearby ones to compete with.
Not only would a casino cash in on people crossing the border, and give them a reason to stop and spend money here, but a casino the size of the one in Grand Portage or Fortune Bay would create many jobs for everyone in the area.
The casino also would benefit other local businesses, such as hotels.
Coun. Perry pointed out Hinckley, Mn. used to be a “one-horse town” before it got a casino.
“We have to hit up the
government and say, ‘Hey look, why are you ignoring Fort Frances again—a border town?’
“Everybody that’s here, and has a stake in it, should be going forward with one voice,” he argued.
Mayor Roy Avis noted that years ago when Ontario first started having casinos, an initiative to have a casino here was put up for a referendum vote and the community voted against it.
“It’s not the government who shot it down. It was the people within this municipality,” the mayor noted.
“We had the opportunity and we missed it,” he added, conceding it’s going to be tough to get province to consider Fort Frances as a site.
But Mayor Avis did admit the options to increase tourism here are limited. There’s no more land for sale on Rainy Lake to develop, and Fort Frances became a pass-through community once Highway 502 was built.
The overall feeling at yesterday’s nearly two-and-a-half hour long meeting was that it is time for Fort Frances to make itself known to senior levels of government, and not be ignored or passed over any more.
In other news, town council will be down one person for a short period of time as Coun. Sharon Tibbs, who serves as deputy mayor, has had to take a leave of absence for medical reasons.
Mayor Avis said yesterday that he also will be out of town for 11 days this month, and suggested Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft be named deputy mayor on a temporary basis.
This appointment is a formality so that an individual will be in place to declare a state of emergency or similar unforeseen circumstance.

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