Input sought on old hotel’s future

Duane Hicks

With the vacant Rainy Lake Hotel continuing to be an eyesore in downtown Fort Frances, the local Business Improvement Association commissioned a study earlier this year regarding the demolition and redevelopment of the property.
And now that the BIA has gotten the study back, it is looking to get input as to what the public would like to see done with that property down the road.
“The study that we’ve done is in anticipation of the fact that something is going to have to be dealt with there,” said BIA chair Connie Cuthbertson.
“We’re trying to be forward thinking on this, looking ahead just a little, but at least we’re starting somewhere,” she reasoned.
Cuthbertson explained the project would involve the demolition of the building and conversion of the property into a park, which possibly could include a small stage area, public washrooms, a play area for children, and picnic tables with umbrellas.
“This is like a pie-in-the-sky dream,” she admitted. “We’re trying to look at all the options, and start off with a ‘golden Cadillac’ idea, and then kind of get back to reality as we go along, like any good project does.”
The park potentially could be used for an outdoor market, musical performances and buskers, art exhibits, and school productions, Cuthbertson suggested.
“It would a nice area for people to get together and enjoy outdoors,” she noted, adding having public washrooms downtown also would be very convenient.
Cuthbertson said the BIA has had a couple of meetings with consulting firm Hilderman, Thomas, Frank and Cram, which has worked on several notable projects here in recent years, including the museum and waterfront sites.
This has given the board a chance to look over an early drawing of a park and start discussing what it would like to see.
“Now, I guess, the idea is to get ideas from other people around the downtown,” Cuthbertson said.
“My gosh, lots of people have ideas out there.”
Cuthbertson said the BIA hopes to hold an open house early this fall so the public can get a look at preliminary plans, get more information, and provide input.
“I thought it might be nice for people to start thinking about it now,” she remarked, adding the public is welcome to get in touch with her at Northwoods Gallery & Gifts (274-9224) or contact any of the other BIA board members with their ideas.
Cuthbertson stressed the project is in its early stages and several things have to happen before the park could become a reality—not the least of which is the demolition of the old Rainy Lake Hotel.
Still, the property has become the “number-one concern” for those in the downtown area—and even a safety issue, she added.
“With a building that size, and the fact that it’s not been used for a while and in obvious disrepair, something is going to have to happen sooner or later, and we’re hoping sooner so we can turn it into something positive,” Cuthbertson said.
“We already are aware that there are monies available for projects,” she noted.
“There are matched funds available out there, so the more that we can save in our coffers, then we’ll have more bang for our buck in the future when it comes time to actually making grant applications and so on.
“Lots of stuff has got to happen between then and now, for sure,” conceded Cuthbertson. “But we’re pretty excited about it. It gives us a focus.
“When the BIA first started, it was about redoing the downtown with the cobblestones and lampposts and that sort of thing.
“And I think that’s when any group can shine the brightest—when there’s a project with a beginning, middle, and end to it that you can really get your teeth into and work together on,” she reasoned.
Cuthbertson said having the downtown park area would be another jewel in the crown of a town that, in recent years, has seen a new library built, its museum renovated and modernized, and waterfront enhanced—and it’s important to keep that momentum going.
“I think it’s better to always look toward the next project rather than just sitting back on our heels and saying, ‘Good job. Well done.’
“You’ve got to keep the ball rolling,” she stressed. “That’s what keeps the community attractive for others to want to live in.”