Timing of hotel demo sparks concern

Duane Hicks

Plans for the demolition of the old Rainy Lake Hotel are underway.
But while Scott Street businesses approve tearing the vacant building down, they don’t want the work to interfere with the crucial Christmas shopping season.
A pre-tender meeting for property owners and tenants of the 200 block of Scott Street was held last Thursday at the Civic Centre.
The town is beginning to prepare tender documents for the demolition and wanted to advise the property owners of where it is in the process—as well as what the anticipated demolition will look like.
While the town won’t know the exact details until the project is tendered, Chief Building Official Travis Rob said the intention is to have a contractor demolish the structure starting in mid-September, with a completion date by Dec. 1.
“I anticipate from the time the contractor starts moving to site until he’s off the site, two-and-a-half to three months, start to finish,” Rob told those on hand for Thursday’s meeting.
He foresees the first month of the demolition being the contractor moving to site, getting fencing and shoring done, building scaffolding, and getting everything else put in place.
About one month of that time will be active demolition. The building will be torn down, with the hole back-filled and packed down.
All buildings adjacent to the demolition site will be accessible safely throughout the demolition, said Rob.
The 200 block of Scott Street likely will be closed to vehicular traffic for a portion of the demolition for safety purposes and to ensure fire hydrant access across the street from the site for dust suppression.
The local fire department will aid in dust suppression.
“We’ll do our best to limit the closure of Scott Street to as small a period as we possibly can,” Rob stressed.
But several downtown retailers expressed concern about an unforeseen event occurring and the project timeline spilling over into the holiday shopping season.
If the street is closed off to vehicular traffic at that time, it could affect whether or not shoppers come downtown.
“It would be absolutely tragic to me if my December was impacted by it,” said Ted Brockie of Brockie’s Jewellers.
But Rob said he feels the two-and-a-half-month timeline is adequate, and he doesn’t foresee it taking a month to prep the site, a month to tear down the hotel, and then half-a-month to clean up the site.
“The reality is they don’t have a lot of room to work, so they’re going to have to stay on top of site clean-up as they go,” he explained.
“They’re not going to be able to stockpile a bunch of material there that they’re then going to have to transport away later.
“They won’t have room to,” he stressed. “As the material is coming down, they’re going to have to load it and take it away as fast as they pretty much can.”
Dave Kircher of Tichborne’s Real Estate asked if the demolition could happen from January-March, instead of this fall.
Rob said he spoke to a couple of contractors regarding winter work and they indicated to him they don’t like to do big demolition jobs in winter because it is so cold, they risk damaging their equipment.
“Hydraulic fluid doesn’t flow very well at 45 below,” he remarked. “No one moves very well at 45 below.
“And we’re compounding the freezing water problem because, for sure, in January, if they’re spraying water [for dust suppression], it’s freezing.
“It makes a complicated demolition even more complicated,” added Rob.
Kircher conceded a demolition early in the new year likely would make the job more expensive but added the 30 days before Christmas is “huge” for retailers.
“It’s everything,” agreed Brockie.
“If you were to shut us down for the month of December, some businesses couldn’t survive,” echoed Richard Boileau of McTaggarts.
Fort Frances Coun. Doug Kitwoski agreed, noting the concerns of retailers should outweigh the concerns of contractors.
Some suggested the contractor could get as much done by Nov. 15, and if the job isn’t complete, they could resume in the new year.
Rob said he would take the property owners’ input into consideration, get more input from contractors in the demolition business, and finish the tender.
He will advise those who attended Thursday’s meeting of any future developments.
Project details
As previously reported, the town already has received $1 million from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp. to level the old hotel and redevelop the site into a market square.
It is expecting official word from FedNor on the $655,000 requested to make the project a reality.
Rob could not comment on the status of the FedNor funding last Thursday, but did say, “We have our financing in place.”
In addition to the provincial and federal shares, the town and local BIA together will be contributing about $300,000 in real and in-kind expenditures.
The first stage of the project is the demolition. The second stage will involve redevelopment.
While a concept drawing has been done showing what the area might look like, actual planning for the market square will take place through this fall and winter, with construction to start in the spring.
But it’s expected the market square will include a farmers’ market and pull-through traffic parking for larger vehicles, such as tourists with boats and trailers.
The square also could feature indoor and outdoor market space for vendors, with the latter being a building to house them from the elements.
The Rainy Lake Hotel was built in 1928 and closed in 2005. It was put up for sale, failed to sell, and then went up for tax sale.
There were no bidders.
The town then vested the property, meaning it took ownership of the property, in 2011.
Since then, the town has been trying to sell it or figure out a different usage for it.
Rob said the property is “severely deteriorated,” noting it was deteriorated years ago and now is worse.
In response to a question last Thursday, Rob said two of the foundation walls have collapsed and there are other structural issues, some dating back to the 1990s.
There is 14-16 inches of standing water in the basement.
A Designated Substances Survey of the building has been completed. Asbestos was found in piping in the basement, which will be removed during the demolition.
Rob and Fort Frances Museum curator Sherry George recently toured the vacant hotel to gather artifacts and see if there were items worth saving.
He also noted that although there’s been rumours of the old hotel being infested with rats (or, according to one story, cats), Rob personally only has ever seen one dead mouse while inside it.
While the town won’t know the exact details of the demolition until the project is tendered, Rob reiterated every measure will be taken to make sure the process is safe and considerate of the public.
Contractors will have on-site security during active demolition.
The demolition will be overseen by an engineer and conducted in a controlled, piece-by-piece manner, Rob assured.
The hours of when demolition work may take place will be specified in the tender document so residents on Scott Street won’t have to put up with noise at all hours.
Air quality testing will be done ensure the air does not have too much dust resulting from the demolition and is safe to breathe during construction period.
The tender also likely will limit the amount of material the contractor can store on-site during the demolition—partially for the dust and partially to keep the area tidy as much as possible during the process, noted Rob.