Mitaanjigamiing First Nation breaks ground on Studio 6 hotel project

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

Construction on the hotel is expected to begin this year and continue through the winter

Ground has been broken, and in short order, work on Fort Frances’ newest hotel will begin.

In a groundbreaking ceremony held at the Mitaanjigamiing First Nation-owned property located next to Canadian Tire on Monday, October 24, 2023, representatives from the First Nation community, their economic development arm the GOBE Corporation and Rideout Bay Developments Inc., announced the first development scheduled to take place there. According to Mitaanjigamiing Chief Janice Henderson and Rideout Bay CEO Ben Cohen, that development will be for a Studio 6 Hotel, a chain of hotels that specialize in extended stay offerings.

The proposed hotel will be a 33,700 square foot build, with a conference room that will have space for 60 people and 70 suites across three floors. Since the franchise is focused on extended stays, each suite is approximately 50 percent larger than a standard hotel room, according to Cohen, coming in at 332 square feet and featuring a full sized fridge, stovetop, cookery and crockery, air fryer, and table and chair.

“It’s really set up as as kind of a studio apartment, a first student apartment,” Cohen said.

“At the end of the day it’s much more comfortable staying long-term in a Studio 6 suite than it is in a hotel room. A little bit more elbow room, lots more facilities and a much more comfortable place to stay for that long-term accommodation.”

Rideout Bay Developments Inc. CEO Ben Cohen, left, GOBE Corporation manager Dan DeGagne, Mitaanjigamiing First Nation chief Janice Henderson and Fort Frances mayor Andrew Hallikas pose for a group photo at the official groundbreaking ceremony for the planned Studio 6 Hotel at the Mitaanjigamiing-owned property next to Canadian Tire in the west end of Fort Frances on Monday, October 23, 2023. Studio 6 caters more towards longer-term stays, and feature a wide array of amenities in each of their studio-like suites. Construction on the new hotel is planned to begin this year and continue through the winter. – Ken Kellar photo

Cohen announced that plans for the build are almost entirely complete, from initial engineering studies to the final architectural planning, meaning that construction on the hotel could start very soon.

“We met last year, October 12, and at that point Mitaanjigamiing had acquired this wonderful piece of land,” Cohen said, referencing the initial reveal and ceremony that were held last year.

“So last year we sourced the franchise, we did the geotech on the land, so we know what we’ve got for soil, we know what we’ve got to build on, we did the ESA, which is the environmental review phase one and phase two, and then we did a hotel feasibility study.”

According to Cohen, the feasibility study showed the town to be “a very exciting market” for hotels, which makes the build worthwhile even as inflation and other factors drive up the pricing for building materials and construction. Cohen added the civil engineering work, structural engineering work, mechanical work and electrical work ate all complete for the project, and the complete architectural plan is “about one or two more days” away from being signed and sealed by the architect. Cohen also shared that the plan for the build has achieved the budget that was set out by Mitaanigamiing chief, council and community, and will be bringing in trade and construction workers from southern Manitoba owing to what Cohen called a “thin and tight” trade market in the northwest of Ontario.

Next steps include submitting all the official documents to the Town of Fort Frances for approval and building permit purposes, bringing in surveyors to stake out the precise dimensions of the proposed build, and getting construction underway. According to Cohen, the build will be able to go ahead over the winter owing to the expertise of the construction companies.

“We’ll get in the ground [this year],” Cohen said.

“We’re from Winnipeg, winter doesn’t scare us. For reference, we started a project last December 15 in Sioux Lookout. We did our screw piles in December, we poured concrete in January. We will build through the winter. We will begin excavating as soon as we have the foundation permit from the Town, and we’re just submitting the full package to them.”

While construction is expected to begin this year, no estimated completion date for the hotel was given.

At last year’s announcement of the overall land purchase, much was made of the grand plans for the property, including a restaurant space, retail spaces, gas station and more. Cohen shared that while there are still plans for the remainder of the property, right now the work is being focused on one item at a time, though they are taking the future into account as they go. As en example, incorporated into all the planning for the hotel is an additional 21,000 square foot retail space included in the same build as the hotel to be used in the future.

“My recommendation to chief and council was, ‘let’s have a one-track mind,’” Cohen said.

“We don’t want to get distracted with the possibility of a restaurant or with a gas station, even though they may have merit. We need a one track mind, let’s build a hotel. What’s really key is we did the civil engineering [for the included retail space], we allowed for water, the sanitary, the power, the snow storage, trash, all these things. We did the civil engineering to allow for it, but we have a one-track mind and we have a very clear mandate from chief and council to build a hotel, and that’s what we’ll do.”

Chief Henderson also spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony, noting the initial build of the hotel is an important economic driver for the entire area.

“We’re very excited to be here today because this means future economic growth for our community, but also for all the surrounding communities,” Henderson said.

“We need, through these times like with COVID, to find economic opportunities, and in our comprehensive community plan that we have a hotel has been one of our action items, and there are a number of other opportunities that we have planned… but it costs money to develop, especially something right straight from the ground. But this is a nice parcel of land, and there is opportunity.”

Henderson also noted that the development will also help provide opportunities for training for community members as management will likely be hired from outside the community to get the business up and running, but that will allow for local community members to learn and grow along with the new business.

Fort Frances mayor Andrew Hallikas was also in attendance at the ceremony and shared that he is excited to see additional economic drivers being built in town that will benefit the region at large.

“The Town of Fort Frances is honoured that you chose to establish this hotel and conference centre here,” he said.

“It will be a very welcome addition to our town and our community, especially our corporate community. It is always so exciting to be present at the beginning of a new business, to see ground being broken and to think about the positive influence that this business will have on the people of Mitaanjigamiing, the residents of Fort Frances and visitors to our community. And we want visitors, lots and lots of visitors, to stop in once this hotel is complete. So I commend the chief and the council of Mitaanjigamiing First Nation for their vision and the perseverance and bringing this project from an idea into reality, and I also compliment GOBE Corporation for their economic vision.”