Groups meet to discuss fate of old hotel

Duane Hicks

Following up on an objective in the town’s strategic plan, stakeholders have met to start discussing the possible future of the old Rainy Lake Hotel property—and will continue to do so down the road.
Members of the local BIA, Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce, and town administration met Friday at the Fort Frances Public Library Technology Centre for a meeting facilitated by Rainy River Future Development Corp. consultant Tannis Drysdale.
BIA member Richard Boileau of McTaggart’s said the meeting was a positive first step towards determining what could be done with the aged building, which closed its doors back in 2005.
“We were really happy to be involved in the discussion, given that it’s right in our neighbourhood,” Boileau noted yesterday.
“I am looking at it right now. We see it every day,” he added. “We were happy to be involved in the discussions.
“Everyone was very positive. Everyone in the room seemed to be basically on the same page—something’s got to be done and the sooner, the better, but not rushing into anything,” Boileau remarked.
“Everyone wants to make sure the studies are done,” he stressed. “There could be some things that need to be done before it gets demolished, if it gets demolished, and everyone seems to want to make sure it’s done right.”
Speaking for himself, Boileau said he feels it’s unlikely the hotel can be left standing as it is.
“I don’t see how anybody could refurbish the building,” he noted. “I am no expert but just looking at it, I think, ‘Man, oh man, it’s been empty for these years and I am pretty sure that the basement probably leaks and the roof probably leaks, and people have been squatting in it.
“If a building’s been leaking, what happening with the walls and floors? Is it even safe to be in?” he wondered.
“It would be great if it didn’t cost millions and millions of dollars to rebuild it, but who has got millions and millions of dollars to rebuild it?
“I know I don’t.
“The people on Scott Street have talked that it would be nice to have a bit of a park in that location, a greenscape,” Boileau continued.
“We had some vendors that came in every Thursday and they were well-received. Everyone seemed happy to have these people downtown selling their wares.
“If there was room for something like that, it would be great.”
Boileau said this greenspace not only would be of benefit for tourists coming to Fort Frances, but local shoppers, too.
“The people that live here think it’s an eyesore,” he said.
“Some people think of it as an eyesore, not all,” Boileau corrected himself. “But those are the people who don’t look at it every day.”
Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig said the first meeting was about laying down basic information and getting discussion going.
“The first order of business was to let everybody know the town does not actually own the Rainy Lake Hotel,” said McCaig. “We have not vested ownership of that facility yet.
“We were talking about what people maybe envisioned for that property down the road, and bringing all the stakeholders together—the businesses in the area represented by the BIA and the Chamber—and just kind of brainstorming about what the town and these people could do moving forward.”
McCaig said they also talked about grant programs for brownfield site remediation, and potential uses of the property in the future if, in fact, it was owned by the town.
He noted the town currently is looking into potential demolition costs.
McCaig agreed that the meeting was “very positive.”
“People are very concerned about the property, very concerned with the state of ill-repair it is in, very concerned about potential issue regarding the building being closed and if there’s any health and safety issues,” he remarked.
“There was an appetite to work together, most definitely, with all the people that were there.”
Drysdale summarized the objective of the group.
“No one in the room owns the building, and it would be nice if we could come up with a consensus and present that consensus to council,” she said.
“Then, council may want community input,” she added. “They may direct this group of individuals through EDAC [the Economic Development Advisory Committee] to provide them with some advice and guidance as to what to do.”
Drysdale noted the town has until February, 2013 to decide whether or not it wants to vest the building, start the tax sale process again, or let it go.
She said EDAC will be brought in for input at future meetings.
The group agreed to keep on meeting to explore ideas as to what to do with the old hotel, with the next one planned near the end of the month.