With word earlier this month that the Downtown BIA had a study done to look at possibly levelling the old Rainy Lake Hotel and turning the property into a park area, the issue has sparked some discussion.
But BIA chair Connie Cuthbertson said Monday she’s happy to see people thinking about other alternatives.
“My big thing really is not to tear down old buildings,” she remarked. “I happen to love that building.
“I did a painting of that building years ago, actually,” she noted.
“I am all for saving the Rainy Lake Hotel, and I think that, ultimately, it could be the showcase of downtown, like it used to years ago, for a very long time.”
But Cuthbertson stressed the reality is it’s going to take a lot of commitment, as well as money and time.
“If there are people that are willing to put themselves out there and say, ‘Hey, you know what? Let’s form a committee, let’s have this ‘Save the Rainy Lake Hotel’ committee going, I am 100 percent behind that,” she said.
Anyone interested in starting a committee is encouraged to contact Cuthbertson at email@example.com
“I would gladly be a part of it,” she remarked. “I don’t have enough time to be the one heading it up, but I’d certainly be very involved, and I know that there would be a tremendous amount of support from all of the people downtown to have something done in a positive way with that building.
“It’s been such an anchor since the street’s inception, really,” she added. “It would be a sad shame to have it demolished.
“But on the other hand, if we can’t get something going, it is getting to be a hazard and is going to have to be dealt with sooner or later,“ Cuthbertson reasoned.
“Anything’s possible . . . it’s definitely a doable project with the right amount of people with the right amount of passion.”
Cuthbertson called the Rainy Lake Hotel “a big building that needs some TLC, a lot of TLC,” and admitted that renovating it is even more difficult that demolishing it and redeveloping the land.
“The reality is it’s going to take a good core of committed people and a lot of fundraising,” she warned, noting it wouldn’t hurt to have a couple of key people with “grant know-how” to apply for funds.
The answer could lie in diversifying usage of the building, she added, suggesting it perhaps could be turned back into a hotel, with part of it dedicated as an arts building.
“All of a sudden, now you can tap into different funds,” Cuthbertson explained. “You can multi-purpose it rather than just make it a hotel . . . there’s all kinds of money out there for development.
“Maybe the tourist information centre could even end up in there? It could be a fun place—if they’re not getting any traffic where they are, they would probably get a lot more foot traffic if they were right downtown,” she reasoned.
Cuthbertson said there’s so many people out there with so many great ideas that the possibilities are truly endless.
“It’s exciting to see there are people out there that feel passionate about it,” she enthused. “I think it’s great.
“I am so excited to see the responses.”
For those in favour of the idea of a downtown park, Cuthbertson said if it’s possible to save the old hotel and fix it, there’s no reason to scrap the first idea since a park area could be built elsewhere in the downtown core.
“There are several areas we could look at developing later on,” she noted.
“It’s a matter of picking a spot and then going with it.”
The online poll by the Fort Frances Times conducted for the week of Aug. 11-18 asked the question: “Would you like to see a park where the old Rainy Lake Hotel now sits?”
There were 504 votes cast, with 53 percent saying “yes” and 47 percent saying “no.”
One online comment read: “I think it would be great to see a market square in place where the RL is now. Locals would be able to rent spots for booths to sell arts, crafts, locally-grown food, etc., as well as a place for small events.”
Of a differing opinion was local resident Caron Cridland, whose letter to the editor published in last week’s Times stated that tearing down the “RL” would be a mistake.
“We want Fort Frances to be a destination? Then let’s give people something to see when they arrive,” she wrote.
“A park in the middle of town is not the answer. The entire district is pretty much a park.
“Tearing down the Rainy Lake Hotel would be a mistake in a long line of mistakes that our town seems to make,” added Cridland.
“Let’s take the same approach as International Falls or Ranier, who have highlighted their historic buildings and managed to revitalize their downtown,” she suggested.