Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Council to forward ‘wish list’

The demolition of the old Rainy Lake Hotel and road reconstruction are among projects town council would like to see senior government help with.
After being contacted last month by more than one government agency about possible funding for projects in light of the town’s dire economic situation, council and administration yesterday reviewed which projects they want to see become reality.

“We really believe that, at this time, based on the fact we’ve had people reach out to us and given our economic climate, that this is probably a really good time to approach the government in regards to assistance,” said Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig.
“I think Fort Frances is at the forefront and on everybody’s radar in regards to economic situation.
“There’s been a number of things we’ve been unable to do,” McCaig added. “Our ability to do them is probably even being further diminished by what we know has happened already in regards to Resolute’s appeal.
“And the assessment and the subsequent tax revenue from Resolute is only going to diminish on a more rapid basis and to a greater degree than we originally anticipated,” he warned.
“So some of the things that we’ve really wanted to do, that we’ve been unable to fund on our own, maybe now, if we put together a list of pressing matters that are important to the town, and if it was compiled by the mayor . . . that they would get a good sense of what our needs are.”
Topping the list was the demolition of the vacant Rainy Lake Hotel, a project estimated to cost about $1 million, followed up by the development of a market square on the space where the hotel used to stand, which could cost about $650,000.
Mayor Roy Avis said “it’s an economic development issue,” and likely falls in line with what senior government is looking at to help the local economy.
He added that the revitalization of that area would mean “a healthy downtown core,” and the market square would “signal prosperity in our community,” whereas right now there’s just a vacant building sitting there.
Coun. Andrew Hallikas said he’s confident the town will find willing partners in the BIA, and perhaps the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce, when it comes to the Rainy Lake Hotel project.
“What I hear more than anything is the Rainy Lake Hotel,” noted McCaig, adding three classes of school children visited the Civic Centre the other day and somebody in each one them asked about what will happen with the decrepit building.
Another project earmarked is the reconstruction of Scott Street from Reid Avenue to Colonization Road East, which would include the replacement of water and sewer infrastructure.
This is a $4.1-million project which would be partially paid for by the town.
This is a project the town has tried to get funding for over the past six years, noted Mayor Avis, adding the town is paying for wear and tear on a road used by big trucks which pass through but never stop here.
Being in the trucking business, Coun. Doug Kitowski vouched that heavy trucks going to and from the mill have been to blame, adding this may be the town’s only chance to get a grant to fix the road.
The third-highest ranked project is resurfacing Frog Creek Road. Members of council agreed the road is in poor shape and is the route to the airport—a facility which is increasingly important given its use by locum doctors who come here, as well as professionals tied to the New Gold mine project north of Barwick.
Several members of council also pointed out any issues which are relevant to possible future economic benefit should be flagged and brought to the province’s attention at this time.
For example, the letter should make it clear the town wants permission to buy or lease the tourist information centre for a reasonable price, noted Coun. Hallikas, adding the province-owned land located between the old library and the clinic also would be of interest should the clinic expand down the road.
Coun. Hallikas added the town also should make it clear it is interested in any possibility of a casino here.
As well, McCaig said the town should express its concern about forest tenure reform and where the wood supply in this area will be used, what for, and will it be accessible for any local ventures that may start up in the future.
In addition to items on the “wish list,” McCaig said he has spoken with the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines about available funding for a broad-based community strategic plan by an expert firm which would help re-position Fort Frances given its “new status as a town without a paper mill.”
The ministry also spoke to him about an adjustment advisory program, which works with people who have lost their jobs and helps them get new ones—or retrain to start a new career path.
“If there’s some assistance the town can [give] in something like that, we should examine our ability to do so,” McCaig said.

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