Following an initial meeting between the “Re-Inventing Fort Frances” committee and consultants Hilderman, Thomas, Frank and Cram last week, the roughly $110,000 study is underway to see how the town can be improved in terms of tourism and commerce.
Engineers—operating under HTFC project manager Jeff Frank—arrived here over the weekend to commence a traffic analysis of the downtown area.
Meanwhile, Tannis Drysdale, a local consultant retained by the firm, began gathering survey data from local businesses Monday.
These two projects were the “initial action items” approved by the group at its Aug. 13 meeting.
Since the process is just underway, “Re-Inventing” chair Janis Lesko said it’s too early to comment on what the findings have been. But she did outline some of the group’s goals, which in the near future, include a public meeting in mid-October to get input from the public.
Since its founding almost 100 years ago, Fort Frances’ success has been tied to the pulp and paper industry. “While that approach saw us through the first century, it is not healthy to rely on a single-industry strategy in an era of global market,” argued Lesko.
“Our community must take meaningful measures to diversify our economy if we truly expect to remain viable during the 21st century,” she stressed.
Speaking for the 12-member committee of volunteers behind “Re-Inventing,” Lesko said Fort Frances should begin the diversification of its economy by making “a genuine commitment to exploit the potential of the tourism-related industry.”
“It’s a natural,” she remarked. “Look, we need to start building on what we already have. For example, we have a million people crossing the bridge every year, but we do virtually nothing to welcome or encourage visitors to stay and spend time and money in our community.”
Lesko cited island-studded Rainy Lake and Rainy River as “world-class natural attractions right in our front yard,” and area First Nations and our voyageur history as “potential attractions that hold great appeal for many, including Europeans and Americans in particular.”
“Our areas has some ouch to offer visitors, but we must make a genuine effort to earn their business,” Lesko said. “The success of the annual bass tourney proves we can attract visitors if we make the commitment to do so.”
One of the projects the “Re-Inventing” group would like to see is a large “fort” structure located as a gateway to the downtown area.
It would house multiple services to visitors, such as Ontario tourism services, a duty-free and Canadian products shop, a fish and wildlife museum, a currency exchange, and the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce.
“By consolidating these services and attractions to one location, we would enjoy the best possible access to tourists and the best possible opportunity to market the wares of our town and area,” Lesko remarked.
Concepts for renovating old Fort Frances High School, the old CN station, and other local historical structures also are being discussed by the committee.
There’s also plans for developing additional heritage art and statuary attractions for young people, a comprehensive parking and traffic plan for the downtown area, and landing more industry.
HTFC expects to finish its consulting work for the project by late January.