‘Gateway’ meeting planned for tomorrow

While the final report was turned over to the town earlier this year, and the original steering committee no longer is directly involved with the project, the town’s economic development officer told council last night that ideas put forth by the “Re-Inventing Fort Frances” initiative are by no means dead.
And first and foremost among the concepts dreamed up by “Re- Inventing Fort Frances” that may yet become reality is a “gateway” at the border here to welcome tourists—an idea that will be promoted with a slightly different perspective at a meeting scheduled for noon tomorrow at La Pace Rendez- Vous.
“We want to broaden the concept from a gateway to Fort Frances to a gateway for the region,” said EDO Geoff Gillon, adding tomorrow’s meeting also will see potential stakeholders from district municipalities and businesses in attendance.
But a future meeting hopefully will see the concept pitched to even more representatives, from areas such as Dryden, Thunder Bay, or even Red Lake.
“I’m taking the original concept and trying to explain it to the region to make it more relevant to them. Then, hopefully, they will help us create it, operate it, and fund it,” Gillon remarked.
“We need some groups to take ownership and make it happen.”^Gillon said he’d like to see developments within the year, but conceded, “this is one of those things that takes time.”^The “gateway” would include a mural on the “lap” building, signage at the border welcoming tourists to Canada and encouraging them to explore the area, and beautification of property.
Further down the road, it also could mean a new tourism centre, among other new structures located near the border crossing, geared to informing tourists about the area and getting them to spend money here.
Gillon said Abitibi-Consolidated already has given the “green light” on using the lap building, and the Rainy River Future Development Corp. has hired a consultant to look into getting government funding for the “gateway” project.
But he’d like to see more discussion about possibilities for getting the “gateway” started at tomorrow’s meeting here, and potentially strike up a steering committee.
That committee not only would be useful in organizing how to get the project done, but be a body that would show senior government the region is serious about— and prepared to go through with—this initiative.
Mayor Dan Onichuk admitted he was a little confused as to the direction of the “Re-Inventing Fort Frances” project, since its original steering committee declared itself “ad hoc” earlier this year and had no official status with the town.
Gillon replied the individuals involved in the original project were welcome to come out and be involved at the tomorrow’s “gateway” meeting, but that their goal—a feasibility study—has been completed and already is doing what it was intended to: provide a focus for the community.
For example, the La Verendrye Parkway project resulted in seeing more signage directing visitors to the town’s waterfront while the Business Improvement Association recently decided to harmonize the business hours of its members for the Christmas shopping season.
The Fort Frances Museum currently is evaluating what to do with local heritage sites while other groups have taken steps to:
•address customer service (with a pair of seminars preparing business owners for Wal-Mart);
•promote the area (RRFDC reps continue to travel abroad as ambassadors); and
•enhance the performing arts (FedNor supported the inaugural School of the Celtic Arts this past summer).
And other issues—such as a remote border crossing at the Rendez-Vous, a FastPass system at the bridge, greeters in shuttles at the border, a “boat bus,” land ownership at Pither’s Point, a truck bypass in town, and relocating the Shevlin wood yard—still are talked about once in a while, added Gillon.
“What I’m trying to get across is that ‘Re-Inventing’ went forth and gathered all these ideas form the community,” he said. “And a lot of things have since been adopted by other groups.
“[‘Re-Inventing’] is by no means defunct, it’s just evolving in a lot of different ways,” he stressed.
Gillon said he’s working on getting more information regarding “Re-Inventing” to the new council in the near future.