Town refuses to commit to ‘Re-Inventing’ just yet

Citing uncertainty over funding from both the federal and provincial governments, town council elected Monday night to hold off on giving the green light to the “Re-Inventing Fort Frances” committee’s request to hire a consulting firm to conduct a feasibility study.
“I am afraid to say we’ll do it without knowing if they would. Without the commitment, the best we can do is table it so we can see you again in two weeks,” Mayor Glenn Witherspoon told “Re-Inventing” committee chair Janis Lesko, who was accompanied at the meeting by several members.
“It’s an excellent document, but we can’t commit,” echoed Coun. Deane Cunningham.
He stressed that doing so not only would possibly leave the town in a bind, but also affect whether or not the project gets funding at all.
“They don’t like anybody stealing their thunder. They want more bang for their buck,” agreed Mayor Witherspoon, noting if any announcement was coming down the line soon from someone such as Jim Wilson, the new minister of Northern Development and Mines, the town would have heard about it long beforehand.
While this concern was brought up at a “Re-Inventing” meeting April 15, the committee remained hopeful some good news had come to light since then, said Lesko.
But Mayor Witherspoon said after Community Services manager George Bell and Geoff Gillon, the town’s economic development officer, looked into the status of the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp. and FedNor applications, the former was “in the cycle at the board level” while the latter yielded no information whatsoever.
Fort Frances CAO Bill Naturkach said it’s “unlikely” the current OPSEU strike would interfere with the provincial funding process.
“I would like to think we would have a better idea by now,” said Mayor Witherspoon. “But I think all we can do this evening is notify Hilderman, Thomas, Frank and Cram [HTFC] and tell them it behooves us to wait a couple of weeks.”
Lesko said yesterday she wasn’t disappointed by council’s reluctance. “We talked ot the consultants today and basically said, ‘We have to wait it out,’” she remarked.
If the town had given the go ahead Monday night, HTFC would have started the study May 1.
“We are happy that council said they felt good about the document. I think that it’s a matter of weeks and we’ll be underway,” added Lesko.
The job of the Winnipeg-based consultants, if selected, would be to conduct a feasibility study regarding aspects of the “Re-Inventing” project, which includes everything from promoting the downtown core to possibly transforming the old Fort High property for a number of uses.
Lesko noted one suggestion made by the consultants the committee is going to follow through on is an “envisioning workshop,” where parties such as the town, Business Improvement Area, and Chamber of Commerce will gather to determine tasks and develop schemes for co-ordinating and funding tasks.
The consulting fee is $108,712 (including GST). This would be paid in part by the town as well as other local contributors, including the Chamber, BIA, and Rainy River Future Development Corp., as well as the provincial and federal governments.
The “Re-Inventing” committee has spent hundreds of hours over the past nine months working on this project, which is meant to promote tourism in Fort Frances while creating and retaining jobs and revitalizing the business district.
The committee consists of Lesko, Mayor Witherspoon, Gillon, Naturkach, Sue Bodnarchuk, Dan Cousineau, Jane Johnston, Gord Winik, Sam Woods, Jean-Marc Blanc, Ted DeBenetti, Trisha Mauro, and Tammi Shoemaker.