Council approves downtown core report

Whether it’s designating Scott Street as “The Great Canadian Main Street,” relocating the Ontario Tourism Centre, altering traffic flow, or making the “Little Amik” logo synonymous with Fort Frances again, the ideas are all in the Downtown Core Committee report approved by town council Monday night.
But just what will happen with all the recommendations to revitalize the downtown that are found in the 31-page document is now a matter of time, money, and dogged effort, Patti-Jo Reid said yesterday.
“What happens now is council decides the direction they’re gong to take with all the recommendations that we made,” noted Reid, a member of the Downtown Core Committee and chair of the town’s Economic Development Advisory Committee.
“We’ll just follow-up to see which ones they’re working on,” she added. “Hopefully, they work on all of them because I don’t think any one is more important than the other.”
Reid said the committee is well aware “funding is primary.”
“That’s why it’s so very important one section—council issues—they go through step by step,” she stressed. “The administration has a few tasks that they have to do in order for these recommendations to become reality.
“For instance, it was not part of our mandate to do the costing. It was just to make recommendations [on] how to improve the downtown core.
“The costing, and where they’re going to get the funds from, is what they have to do now,” Reid explained. “With budgeting on their plate right now, it’s a good time to have it in front of them, so they can think about these things and where they’re going to go with them.”
At its meeting Monday night, council supported the five “council issue” recommendations Reid made reference to. These included:
•holding a public meeting to inform and get input from the residents of Fort Frances regarding downtown core initiatives;
•directing the mayor and CAO to commence discussions with the affected landowners to fulfill goals of the plan;
•directing the Planning and Development Advisory Committee to review and report back to council on the most appropriate use of lands deemed available;
•directing administration to put together an estimate of costs to fund the projects; and
•directing the Administration and Finance executive committee to put together a long-term plan to reduce the commercial taxes in town.
Reid noted the Downtown Core Committee will continue to meet quarterly, and follow up to see the initiatives recommended in the report carried out.
The committee met between January and October to devise a report addressing how to revitalize downtown Fort Frances.
Created as a working body under the Economic Development Advisory Committee (EDAC), the committee—consisting of members of the EDAC, the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce, Business Improvement Association, Abitibi-Consolidated, Re-Inventing Fort Frances, and the Rainy River Future Development Corp.—met to discuss pertinent issues and formulate possible solutions to problems.
The “downtown core” was defined as the BIA zone (100-300 blocks of Scott Street), as well as the adjacent areas from the river to Second Street East, east to the Sportsplex, and west to Central Avenue.
Reid said they used some of the studies that already have been done in Fort Frances, such the Heritage Tourism, Re-Inventing Fort Frances, Tomorrow, and tourism, traffic, and fishing museum studies, rather than commissioning a new one.
After reviewing the studies, the committee investigated barriers and opportunities in relation to issues arising, said Reid.
Issues identified included traffic flow, parking, funding, museum plan support, alleys and lanes, tourist centre relocation, the public library, the town as a destination point, signage, and downtown branding.
Four sub-committees were formed to review and analyze each of these issues, which then were grouped into four sections—traffic flow, parking, alleys/lanes, and the Tourist Information Centre relocation; signage; branding and downtown issues; and council issues.
Those subcommittees met and provided final reports of their discussions and ideas, which then were compiled in this final document.
Also Monday night, council accepted letters of support for the Downtown Core Committee’s report from the Chamber, Re-Inventing Fort Frances, Abitibi-Consolidated, BIA, and RRFDC.
Several representatives from these partner groups also were on hand for the meeting.
“We’re very excited about the ideas in this document,” said Connie Cuthbertson, who was representing the BIA.
But she noted the main issue is the suggestion that the BIA be disbanded—something which should be further discussed.
“It’s been an exciting time.” said Gord Winik, who represents Abitibi-Consolidated on the committee.
He noted the company supports the report with the exception of one issue: there must be “no cost penalty to Abitibi-Consolidated Company of Canada, Fort Frances Division, for the institution and implementation, in whole or part, of this proposal.”
“We must remember to be flexible with all the proposals put forth in this report as economic challenges present themselves in the new few years,” said Winik, reading a letter from mill general manager John Harrison.
Chamber of Commerce president Gary Rogozinski said his group “strongly supports” the recommendations in the core report, adding that while some of the recommendations “seem conceptual, they are achievable.”
He noted the Downtown Core Committee needs the town’s financial support and co-operation to carry out these recommendations.
“Together, we can realize a stronger business community, which is good for the Town of Fort Frances,” Rogozinski remarked.
“The RRFDC board felt that the report had many good suggestions in it for changes that need to occur in the downtown area of Fort Frances for the businesses to become more successful and prosperous,” read a letter of support from RRFDC chair Russ Fortier.