Input urged on downtown plans

Recommendations in the Downtown Core Committee report will affect more than just Scott Street and the surrounding area, and individuals and groups alike should come out to the public meeting slated for June 13.
This was message Patti-Jo Reid, chair of the local Economic Development Advisory Committee and Downtown Core Committee, hammered home Tuesday to the 30-plus attending the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce’s spring general membership meeting at La Place Rendez-Vous.
The public meeting is slated for Tuesday, June 13 at 7 p.m. at the Memorial Sports Centre auditorium, said Reid, adding everyone is encouraged to come out.
“If you have any concerns, get together as a group and make a presentation,” she told Chamber members.
Each presentation will be limited to five minutes, and those interested in doing so will have to contact the town prior to the meeting to get on the agenda.
Reid added no one involved in the Downtown Core Committee will be facilitating the meeting, which will be moderated by local public school board trustee Dan Belluz.
She also stressed the report and all its recommendations lies in town council’s hands at this point, and people must speak up if they have any problems with it—or suggestions to make it better.
“Now isn’t the time for debate,” said Reid, referring to Tuesday’s meeting. “I think town council has to hear it. They’re the ones making the decisions.”
Reid said she wants the public to educate themselves about the Downtown Core Committee plan, and encouraged anyone interested to pick up copies of the report at the Civic Centre so they can prepare questions or presentations for the June 13 meeting.
She also handed out copies of 31-page document to those on hand Tuesday.
Reid also took the time to run through a history of the Downtown Core Committee and all of the recommendations in the report.
The committee had met between January and October of last year to devise a report addressing how to revitalize downtown Fort Frances.
Created as a working body under the 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 Memorial Sports Centre, 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, she noted.
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 the document given to town council back in November.
Just a handful of recommendations in the report include:
•Designating Scott Street as “The Great Canadian Main Street” and marketing it as such;
•Making a concerted push to move the Tourist Information Centre;
•Making Central Avenue one-way from Scott Street south to the entrance of the bridge, and Church Street one-way from Mowat Avenue west to the entrance of the bridge, to make Canada Customs a “sterile zone” permitting traffic within it to only flow towards the States.
(In a second phase, Central Avenue then would be closed from Second Street East to Church Street, routing traffic going across the bridge down Mowat Avenue);
•Relocating Canada Customs’ secondary inspection station at Mowat Avenue and Church Street to the existing Tourist Information Centre location; and
•Implementing angled parking on the north side of the 200 block of First Street East.
In March, council started to take action with a number of council-specific recommendations from the committee, including having the mayor and CAO commence discussions with the affected landowners to fulfill goals of the plan, and having the Planning and Development Advisory Committee review and report back to council on the most appropriate use of lands deemed available.
Council also agreed to hold public meetings to inform and get input from town residents regarding downtown core initiatives being proposed, the first of which will be on June 13.
Eventually, administration will be directed to put together an estimate of costs to fund the projects, and the Administration and Finance executive committee will be directed to put together a long-term plan to reduce the commercial taxes in town.
Other business at Tuesday’s Chamber meeting included a message from president Gary Rogozinski as well as recognition of retiring Chamber directors Ala Dulas (2003-05), Jon Evans (2004-05), and Debbie Williamson (2002-05).