On May 15, operators of The Scoop ice cream shop at the Sorting Gap Marina notified patrons that they would not be resuming service this summer and that the Town of Fort Frances would be assuming responsibility for the marina.
Operated under a partnership between owners of restaurants Flint House and Boston Pizza, Duane Cridland and Dale Fortes respectively, The Scoop had been in place for two summers after they agreed to lease the space from the Town of Fort Frances. One of those summers was curtailed by flooding on the Fort Frances riverfront.
According to Interim Fort Frances CAO Travis Rob, The Scoop’s lease was up.
“There was a renewal clause or an extension clause and they had a period to indicate they wanted to extend for another year,” Rob said. “That period had well passed, before we had any indication that they wanted to.”
In the midst of negotiations between the town and The Scoop, former CAO Faisal Anwar left his position with the Town, and was replaced by Rob on an interim basis.
Stacey Cridland of the Flint House helped run The Scoop as part of the family business. She says the group started negotiating with former CAO Faisal Anwar but talks hadn’t resolved before he left.
“We reached out to the Town a few times over the months of December, January, February, and March and didn’t hear anything,” Cridland said. “Then we finally had a meeting with Faisal, and he kind of left it up in the air. Then a couple of weeks later we heard from Travis that the Town was doing it.”
Rob says he was involved with some negotiations, but they failed to reach an agreement on a new lease.
“I was really just picking up where it had gotten left off,” Rob said. “We tried to negotiate a deal a couple of times, but we were unable to reach terms.”
The running of the marina had been put to tender in hopes that an outside contractor could improve the experience for customers, Rob says.
“This goes back a few years, it was something that we tried to see if there was an opportunity to have a contractor operate it and improve the level of service that the customer, the townspeople, the travelers, the tourists, whomever experienced at that site,” Rob said. “Unfortunately, there are some terms in the agreement that I don’t think were conducive to really seeing the place operate to the best of its ability.”
Rob says there was some agreement between parties that there were elements of the deal to iron out, and changes that needed to be made in a second lease.
“If we were going to continue with the contractor operating it, we had a few things we needed ironed out,” Rob said. “They agreed that there were some things that needed to get ironed out but we just couldn’t reach terms on those. I don’t think it’s an impossibility that it’s operated by a contractor in the future, but there’s some lessons learned in the period that it was being operated that, going forward, we need to consider.”
Cridland said the group is disappointed because they had high hopes and plans for a full summer at the Marina. The first one was rushed because of the initial RFP process and impacted by COVID-19 restrictions, and the second was shortened by the floods last year. Cridland said they’re not interested in a return if the town were to make another Request for Proposals.
“We were really looking forward to expanding the waterfront and doing more down there,” Cridland said. “But we really have no interest if they put it back out to tender. We’ve already spent a lot of time and money there…in the last couple of years…”
The Town had hoped to get the marina open for the Victoria Day long weekend but as they are still hiring staff for the location, they are now working to have the Sorting Gap open as soon as possible. They do intend for the lookout tower to be open to visitors this summer after it was closed last year because of the flooding, and before that due to COVID restrictions.
“We want to have it operate during the week right now and not just after school,” Rob said. “So we need to find a student that can work during the week. So we’re looking for a university level student and typically that role has carried some higher-level responsibility. I don’t want to say supervisor, but kind of that higher level, overall operational kind of role in that place. We do have some high school students that are interested in working there, which is great, but we haven’t been able to find anybody interested from the post-secondary world that will be able to work weekdays before high school is out.”
As soon as the place is adequately staffed, Rob says the marina will be open with gas available and the observation tower open to visitors and the usual ice cream, drinks and snack food fare.