Fort Frances to explore economic opportunities

Sam Odrowski

While the town struggles to create economic opportunities at the shuttered paper mill in 2019, council has a strong path going forward to bolster the local economy.
Fort Frances recently secured provincial and federal funding for a land-use and economic development feasibility study at the Shelvin Wood Yard and Nurses Station.
“This starts a year of exciting times for us, we had a big struggle during 2019 with the final decisions made on the mill property but we now have the opportunity as a town to develop and create a future for Fort Frances,” Mayor Caul said at Monday night’s council meeting.
The town’s chief building official, Cody Vangel gave a presentation to council on the redevelopment project during their meeting.
He said he’s keen to explore various opportunities through HTFC Planning and Design, which is the consulting firm contracted to complete the feasibility study.
“I think a very exciting moment for the town, stakeholders, members of council, the people of the town as well, it’s just a blank slate that can really put Fort Frances on the map and I myself am looking forward to everything that we’ll get out of this,” Vangel noted.
HTFC’s role is to get all relevant information from the town on the Shevlin Wood Yard and Nurses Station, then host public and stakeholder meetings to get ideas and a vision from the public.
“They’ll take all that information together and prepare a report as to what is going to best fit the town, what is going to be most economical, create jobs, [tax] assessment, post-tourism, and be friendly for the people of the town as well,” Vangel explained.
The feasibility study project is anticipated to run from Jan. 2020 to July 2020 and HTFC will develop a number of possible scenarios at the town owned properties, which will be facilitated through public stakeholder meetings. Council will then have the final say on what direction the study will take in the future.
The first public stakeholder meeting, where input is gathered by town residents for HTFC happens tonight (Feb. 12) at La Place Rendez Vous.
The event has limited space and is RSVP only. To inquire about attending contact Vangel by email cvangel@fortfrances.ca or call 807-274-5323 ext 1216.
Anyone who is unable to attend but would like to share their ideas for the Shelvin Wood Yard or Nurses Station can email or call Vangel who will pass along that information to HTFC.
“Throughout the workshops we’ll be gathering ideas, data, and visions and information to pass onto the consultants,” he noted.
“This will allow them to see a direction as to where everybody in the town-the stakeholders-see the project going.”
The next public consultation sessions are tentatively set for the end of March, early April, and the final one will be held in mid-June.
HTFC is familiar with Fort Frances, having completed a number of local projects in the last 10 to 15 years.
They created the “Reinventing Fort Frances – Gateway to Canada Plan” for the town in 2003, the “Fort Frances Heritage Tourism Implementation” and “Fort Frances Active Transportation Plan” in 2006, as well as the “Market Square Study” in 2010. 
“On top of that they’ve gotten a lot of work in with our neighbouring communities. Their work is known provincially, nationally, and internationally as well,” Vangel remarked. “I think we’re paired up with a really good team.”
HTFC has proposed a four stage plan for the town.
Step one is understanding existing conditions and setting common goals, step two is exploring ideas, step three is developing preferred plans and a robust business case to support it, and step four is building support for the plans and adopting them.
Town CAO, Doug Brown noted he’s already met with the mill property owner, Riversedge, to discuss potential opportunities and is meeting with the DSSAB about an All Nations Health Campus.
At this point Brown said there’s many ideas floating around and the town has a blank board to spitball ideas.
He also noted that one of the intentions of Resolute giving Fort Frances the Shelvin Wood Yard is to generate tax assessment back into the town.
Vangel stressed to council that the tax rate for large industrial properties are of greater benefit to the town as they are taxed at about 13 percent while residential assessments are only roughly 1.8 percent, according to 2019 data.
Large industrial properties are taxed roughly seven times higher than residential.
Meanwhile, the ideal development will be interactive for the community, create jobs and community growth, generate tax assessment, and influence tourism, Vangel noted.
He said he looks forward to HTFC, “taking us outside of our comfort zone to be able to put Fort Frances on the map and make it a desirable place for us all.”
“I think this is really exciting times for Fort Frances and we need to focus on the future, not what’s happened in the past, but to move ahead now with any partners out there,” Mayor Caul remarked.
“I’m looking forward to this year and what’s going to develop.”