A committee of about a dozen people presented the first part of a massive plan to “Re-invent Fort Frances” to town council Tuesday night.
The plan, which includes an enhanced entranceway on this side of the border, expansive parking areas, parks, decor, and building relocations, was put together and presented by a joint committee of the Business Improvement Area and Rainy River District Business Women’s Network.
The group has petitioned—and says it has support from—the local Chamber of Commerce, the Regional Economic Development Committee, Indian Affairs and Northern Development minister Robert Nault, and Abitibi-Consolidated Inc. to pursue the first phase and improve the gateway into Fort Frances.
“As far as I can tell, everyone we’ve talked with have said this should be done but there are other ideas that come and we welcome those ideas,” said committee member Sam Woods of Ranier, Mn.
“One of the things Fort Frances is missing here is there is no welcome sign coming over the bridge or into the town to indicate that you’re welcome here,” he noted.
The welcome sign is just part of the plan to improve the town’s entrance from the U.S., which the “Re-inventing Fort Frances” committee has set out in 10 steps.
These include putting murals on Abitibi buildings, using the old Fort Frances High School as a “Centennial Market” with grounds and an outdoor theatre, closing a section of Central Avenue and re-routing traffic through the downtown core, adding murals, signs, and statues throughout the gateway area. and removing eye sores and obstructions at this end of the international bridge.
The “gateway” will include an area of about six blocks.
“We have to give people who cross the border a reason to stop,” stressed Janis Lesko, a committee member from the Business Women’s Network.
“It’s not hard to tell why people don’t stop because it’s pretty unsightly,” she added. “We want to emphasize that it’s the theme to this which is extremely important.”
Plans would include renovating some of the town’s historic buildings and building a log facade to emphasize Fort Frances’ history.
“If a person had a 100-year-old house, you’d want to renovate it every once in awhile . . . well, it’s time to renovate the town,” argued Woods.
The group hopes money can be raised to do a feasibility study on the project after it is approved by council.
“That’s the reason we are going to council, we are looking for some support,” noted Larry Syrovy, owner of the Rainy Lake Hotel on Scott Street. “This is something we would need support from all levels of government.”
“In one way, stage, or form, something has to be done. It may not be easy but the way it is, there has to be change,” said Syrovy.
The committee also includes Fort Frances Mayor Glenn Witherspoon, Tourism Information Centre manager Jane Johnstone, business owners, and Chamber of Commerce reps.
Council referred the group’s plan to its executive committees for future consideration.