Concept plans for revitalized mill site revealed

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer
kkellar@fortfrances.com

Council and administration will see the first official plans for the redevelopment of the former Resolute Mill site at tonight’s council meeting.

In a deputation presented by Tom Janzen and Wes Paetkau on behalf of BMI Group, Ziibi Investments and Aazhogan Renewal, the first official concept plans for what is to potentially become of the mill site will be unveiled at the beginning of tonight’s Committee of the Whole meeting. The twenty-slide presentation features a number of hand-drawn concepts and accompanying examples to finally flesh out the larger image of what that area could look like once cleanup and rehabilitation work is completed.

Included in the plans for the area are several commercial, industrial, and recreational opportunities for people in Fort Frances and beyond. According to the deputation, the north-most area of the mill grounds which included the paper mill and the property running parallel to King’s Highway will be turned into a market precinct which will feature a mixed-use retail space, a market building, hospitality area and cultural arbour. Meanwhile, the area immediately adjacent to the border crossing, dubbed the “Gateway Precinct” in the presentation, will be redeveloped to feature enhanced laneways for motorists crossing the border and landing at the CBSA building, new retail and parking further along Church Street and installation of new parks and public artworks at the border and along where the pulp mill facilities were formerly located.

Initial plans are being revealed for the former mill property, at tonight’s Town Council meeting. The concept includes a variety of commercial, industrial and institutional uses, as well as green spaces and a welcoming entry at the international border. The unveiling is open to the public in person or online. – Submitted photo

A significant factor in looking over the plans for this section of the former mill site is how the BMI / Ziibi / Aazhogan plans dovetail with what was previously presented as concepts for the Gateway project, which aimed to revitalize the downtown core and entice both residents and tourists to spend more time in the area by enhancing parking, greenery, and walkways to improve the flow of pedestrian traffic. There is no word in the plans on whether this is intentional or a byproduct of the Gateway project having been previously conceptualized and planned, but the synergy between the two would would further add to the appeal of a revitalized downtown core.

Further along the riverfront, the new concept art includes an extension of the Front Street river walkway, bringing it all the way from its current end point in front of La Verendrye General Hospital to the border crossing, and adding more park spaces and a new public dock and fishing station closer to the hospital.

In the land between the border crossing and hospital, which was more of the pulp mill buildings, the concept art shows that the area will be turned into two separate precincts, one of which will be focused on enterprise and industry, and the other appears to serve to enhance the hospital and what the town can offer in terms of health and wellness. The Enterprise Precinct is planned to feature “ancillary retail and service commercial” space, roughly four hectares of employment lands and a green industry space. Meanwhile, the Wellness Precinct will include a new specialized multi-unit residential building which could include seniors housing, extended-stay housing, or medical staff residences. The Wellness Precinct could also feature a potential space for the expansion of local health care, a service and supply centre for medical/health/wellness and finally, fitness and rehabilitation facilities. These additions also seem to be tailored to the local doctor shortage in the area, as additional housing options for medical staff could serve to bring more practitioners or specialists to the area, providing them more temporary or long-term residential spaces.

Lagoon

Also included in the plans are the previously-reported-on developments at the former lagoon property, which is to feature a large-scale computing operation and solar farm.

The presentation notes that the concepts for the new mill area developments will seek input from Indigenous Knowledge Keepers regarding the open space designs, incorporate plant life and interpretive elements from Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung, naming streets and places using Ojibwe words and phrases and hiring Indigenous artists, architects, engineers, and planners to design elements in the new spaces. The team also intends to draw on the historical architecture of the former mill and retrofit older buildings for new uses. There is also the plan to reuse masonry from the demolished mill buildings as hardscape or metal works for public art.

The reporting on the proposed mill development is currently speculation based on the documents and presentation included in the council agenda package for tonight’s meeting, along with previous reporting on such items as the Gateway to Fort Frances project. It is expected that more information will be made available by the presenters at tonight’s council meeting, along with clarifications from council and administrations questions on different proposals or elements of the design. Once presented to council, the project will still have a number of steps in the planning stages before any work can be done, including finishing remaining demolitions and resulting clean-up. No timescale was provided with the presentation to give an idea when these stages will be completed, and the Times will continue to follow this story as more information is made available and word is completed.

Other business

Also on tonight’s council agenda is a recommendation that the Town of Fort Frances provide supports to the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship in advance of its proposed tournament this year from July 20-23, which includes designating the tournament a significant “Community Festival and Event,” authorizing the use of the Memorial Sports Centre Stage, tables and chairs for the event, assisting with the erection of the big tent at the Sorting Gap and authorizing the installation of poles and flags on concrete pylons and edges of the launch ramp, along with allowing the attachment of pennants, signs and banners to street poles, fences and other “creative places” around town.

Other items on the agenda tonight include an over-height fence request for 916 Armit Avenue, the awarding of a tender for asphalt patching to Positano Paving, a proclamation that a flag be raised for Franco-Ontarian Day on September 23, 2022, and that September 19 to 25, 2022 be designated Rail Safety Week.

Tonight’s meeting of the town of Fort Frances council and administration is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. at the Fort Frances Civic Centre. The meeting is open to in-person attendees, and a link to the virtual livestream is available at the Town of Fort Frances website.