The “Re-Inventing Fort Frances” committee will have to wait until council’s next meeting Dec. 10 to find out whether the town will contribute $50,000 towards a feasibility study.
While the committee asked council Monday night to contribute the money to help pay for the study, which would be necessary to land more government funding to carry out the large-scale project, council unanimously voted not to commit the backing until they figured out how it would impact the 2002 budget.
“The government wants Fort Frances to buy in. I want Fort Frances to buy in, and council wants Fort Frances to buy in,” said Mayor Glenn Witherspoon.
“As soon as we can, we’ll get you an answer,” he pledged.
“I certainly support it 100 percent. But we don’t have a blank cheque to fill out and give to you tonight,” echoed Coun. Deane Cunningham.
“We’re looking at the 2002 budget tonight and we don’t have a place for it. So we’ll have to take another look at it,” he added.
“I think we need a couple of weeks to get things together,” agreed Coun. Roy Avis.
Coun. Struchan Gilson said council shouldn’t hastily agree to contributing the $50,000.
“I feel a tremendous amount of pressure right now. Every dollar we put somewhere else might affect something else,” he said, referring to municipal services already accounted for in the budget.
Council voted to have the matter referred to its finance and administration committee, which must have a recommendation ready by the Dec. 10 meeting.
In their presentation, the “Re-Inventing Fort Frances” committee, including chair Janis Lesko, Sam Woods, Susan Bodnarchuk, Tammi Shoemaker, Larry Syrovy, Ted DeBenetti, and David Bodnarchuk, made it clear time is of the essence when it comes to getting the town’s financial support.
“There is an urgency for an affirmative vote from council because the window of opportunity for federal funding is closing quickly,” said Lesko.
The feasibility study will cost about $150,000—a price tag which the committee is hoping will be shared equally by the town, FedNor, and the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund.
“The funding for the projects that would flow from this study are now available. But we need the proper feasibility study first,” noted Woods.
And he added the feasibility study would be useful beyond the “Re-Inventing Fort Frances” project.
“There’s many things coming up right off the bat that benefit from a real model,” said Woods, noting it could determine the most efficient use of signage at the new Canada Custom facility here.
“It will be an umbrella document for the whole community,” he added.
Other committee members spoke on the long-term benefits of carrying through with the entire project.
“This is a great opportunity for council to help build something that will be here for years to come, bring economic stability,” said Syrovy. “We can build something for our children, and our children’s children.”
“As the chair of the BIA, I think a project like this holds great promise,” said DeBenetti, noting it would mean more jobs and an extended tax base.
“We would make Fort Frances a destination, a great place to be,” he stressed.
“The concern here isn’t about just the downtown area but re-building the community east to west—it’s about developing a new tourism industry,” echoed Lesko.
Susan Bodnarchuk also stressed the importance of investing in the future of the community. “I would love to see additional jobs created so I could have people like my son [Dave] come back and have a job here,” she said.
“We haven’t been able to get our youth back,” agreed Lesko.
The youngest committee member, Dave Bodnarchuk, also offered his perspective.
“As a young person who’s grown up in this community, I have to say working with this committee has been a great experience,” he remarked.
“And if a young person’s opinion does count, I’m saying this is something that should really be done,” he added, noting it would bolster town pride “which has been lacking.”
Conceptual drawings of projects under the “Re-Inventing Fort Frances” umbrella, such as the “Gateway to Fort Frances,” can be seen in the window of the BIA office (235 Scott St.)