Concept plan for mill property revealed

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

While work on the demolition of the former Resolute Fort Frances Mill continues, the first concept plans of what could take its place have finally been revealed.

In a deputation to the Town of Fort Frances council and administration at monday night’s Council meeting, Tom Janzen and Wes Paetkau of Scatliff + Miller + Murray in Winnipeg, and speaking on behalf of the BMI Group, Ziibi Investments and the Aazhogan Limited Partnership, presented the first conceptual images and plan for the future of the former mill grounds.

Janzen noted that, along with an advisory committee made up of local representatives and members of the three groups involved with the land development, the project has also been worked on by their company, as well as the KGS Group for civil engineering, Compass and Rainy River First Nation representative Cassandra Cochrane.

Divided into several different areas they have coined “precincts” the plans offered a comprehensive look at one possible future of the mill site that will involve several different retail, commercial, industrial and medical possibilities, as well as a host of new green spaces, an extension of the Front Street walkway and embedded Indigenous perspectives. Janzen said one of the goals of the project is to help to revitalize the entire town and surrounding area by helping to make Fort Frances a tourist destination.

“[The project] really is viewed as a monumental project, not only for the partnership, but for the town and surrounding district,” Janzen explained.

“It’s really driven by the desire to transform the site for a sustainable future, economic regeneration, urban revitalization and really an incredible once-in-a-generation opportunity to really transform not only the site, but also showcase the potential for redeveloping a site like this. It’s got tremendous challenges considering its past use and history, but it’s also an incredible opportunity for innovation and experimentation in design and land use, and really reopening the waterfront to the public.”

Janzen also noted that through the development of the concept so far, they have created a number of aspirations for the site, which include the revitalization of the site and surrounding area, as well as elevating the site as a gateway to Fort Frances, Northwestern Ontario and the Treaty #3 traditional territory, but also an effort in reconciliation by helping to build strong relationships with Indigenous partners and peoples, and incorporating Indigenous knowledge and and perspectives into some of the designs, buildings and artworks planned across the site.

“The concept plan that we have is designs to re-weave this site into the urban fabric, but it’s also an opportunity we see to create links with Anishinaabe culture and explore the possibilities for business and economic synergies with Rainy River First Nations,” Janzen said.

Beginning at the northmost area of the mill property along King’s Highway, dubbed the Market Precinct, the concept shows plans for a mixed-use retail space and market area, along with hospitality spaces and a cultural arbour space. Further along the riverfront towards the border, the plan shows a reworking of the lanes bringing people across the Canada-U.S. border called the “Gateway Precinct,” with public art installations, new park spaces and a revitalization of Church Street from Central Avenue to Veterans Avenue. The parking lot located across from the Canadian Border Service Agency building is also planned for a facelift, one of the items that Janzen said could be among the first to be developed once plans have been finalized, as it is not dependent on any further clean-up of other mill sites.

“There’s a desire to make some early investment in that and really create a sense of welcome to the site and get some excitement about what the future potential of these lands are,” Janzen said.

Heading further east along the waterfront, what is now mostly the former site of the pulp mill is being targeted to be returned to a mix of green spaces and industrial or commercial property, becoming the “Waterfront Precinct” and enterprise Precinct” respectively. Janzen said the Waterfront Precinct would extend the Front Street Walkway from Victoria Avenue all the way down to the border, and potentially even beyond along the river, and feature additional parks and a public dock for boats, canoes, kayaks and fishing. The Enterprise Precinct could feature a number of retail and service commercial spaces and employment lands, and additional green industry in the area that made up the bulk of the former mill site.

“We’re calling it the Enterprise Precinct, but it’s really taking advantage, in some ways, of some of the most impacted sites left by the former mill site,” Janzen said.

A development concept has been released, outlining future plans for the current mill demolition site. Although it’s a long-term plan, some elements could be started quickly, such as some Church Street developments. The plan builds in parks, cultural, industrial and institutional advancements for the town.

“We’re really kind of focusing those on future employment and industrial uses. The Aazhogan Renewal Group, and BMI in particular, have a real interest in green industry, and together I think they’ve already spoken with a number of prospective interests for future investment in this area, and a large part of it is focused on employment investment and green industries that could take advantage of not only some of the existing infrastructure, but also takes advantage of the nature of the impacts on the land today.”

The final area shown in the concept plan has been labelled the “Wellness Precinct” and could include a new specialized multi-unit residential building that could be used for senior’s housing, extended stay spaces or even medical staff residences for the hospital, as well as new fitness and rehabilitation facilities, a medical service and supply centre, and potentially even room for expansion for La Verendrye Hospital or Riverside Health Care, a topic which Janzen said they have discussed with the organization.

“We did engage with them early on in our process, and they did indicate at that point potential future hospital expansion requirements, and again, the need for some senior housing in the town,” he said.

“It was left open-ended, but we’re very open to potential collaboration, and I think we’ve deliberately created an opportunity here, or we’ve developed the concept in such a way it wouldn’t preclude opportunities for future collaboration and accommodation of that potential expansion on these lands.”

The revitalization of the mill site comes after the announcement of plans to revitalize the downtown core and the Shevlin Woodyard and Janzen said that those plans were considered as development on the concept plan was underway so as to try to harmonize the town and flow of tourists, pedestrians and other traffics through town.

“Shevlin Woodyard is another major redevelopment project being pursued by the town, and we came into this with a concerted effort to ensure we were developing a vision that complemented, not competed, with it,” Janzen said.

“So I think this diagram at a high level shows what we see as a potential interconnection, again focused on both Front Street and through the downtown, providing a pedestrian and vehicular connection from the Gateway and bringing people through this site and to the Shevlin site. And just comparing the uses, I think what we’ve done is really a deliberate effort thinking about the land use mix and making it distinct, taking advantage of the site attributes and adjacent uses that the former mill site has, and really distinguish it from what’s being pursued with the Shevlin site. We really do think they can work together and really transform the future growth and development of Fort Frances.”