Town taking next steps with tourist centre here

Duane Hicks

The Town of Fort Frances will partner with the local Chamber of Commerce to investigate acquiring and re-opening the Ontario Travel Information Centre (OTIC) here.
In the meantime, it will hire students to hand out maps at the border this summer.
At its regular meeting Monday night, council approved a report from Rainy River Future Development Corp. consultant Tannis Drysdale, authorizing the RRFDC to spend up to $5,000 on student labour to provide tourist information at the border during key hours this summer.
They will provide information on Fort Frances as well as maps to the Sorting Gap Marina and the museum, where more tourist information and public washrooms will be available.
Council also agreed to work with the town’s Economic Development Advisory Committee (EDAC) to actively lobby/negotiate with the Ontario Realty Corp. (ORC) to acquire the OTIC building and for the local Chamber to provide tourist information services there.
In an interview after Monday’s council meeting, Mayor Roy Avis said the town has gotten the message the province is not interested in reversing its decision to close the OTIC—and Fort Frances has to step to the plate.
“The way it stands right now, we’re going to have no [government-run] tourist information centre in Fort Frances this year or in the future,” he remarked.
“We, as a municipality, feel that we should have some type of tourist information centre in this area, for greeting people when they come in or for people who want to stop and get information on Fort Frances,” the mayor added.
“I think that as we move forward, if we become the only [community] that wants to fund a tourist information centre for the gateway to Northwestern Ontario, it will be centered around Fort Frances.
“It will be a Fort Frances tourist information centre,” he stressed.
Mayor Avis said EDAC has recommended the town have some kind of tourism centre in place, and that the town work with the Chamber, EDAC, and RRFDC to have “a presence in the tourist industry for this year,” such as hiring students to hand out information at the border crossing here.
The mayor said the town is trying to work with the government to come up with a long-term solution.
“Maybe we can lease that building at a reasonable cost? There’s many things we could do. Partner with the Chamber,” Mayor Avis said.
“I don’t think we’ll see the day when [the OTIC] re-opens the way it was,” he added. “The budget’s been passed, they’ve made many cuts.”
The mayor also noted he received a letter from Tourism minister Michael Chan confirming the province’s position.
After the province’s abrupt announcement earlier this spring that several OTICs would be closed at the end of April, including the ones in Fort Frances, Rainy River, and Kenora, town council and the Chamber began to explore solutions to allow the service to continue, Drysdale noted in her report.
They determined that:
•in the long-term, it’s unlikely the Ministry of Tourism will re-open the facility, even on a seasonal basis;
•no other regional organization has offered to continue to provide services;
•the ministry cannot provide the building to the community at this time, and the normal process involving the ORC is scheduled to take place; and
•the Chamber is interested in becoming a partner to provide tourist information, but its current workspace is not suitable to providing this service.
EDAC met and reviewed the options, and is advising council to have the town partner with the Chamber—and perhaps other entities—to distribute tourist information.
The cost of this service could range from $30,000-60,000 a year.
EDAC also has recommended the town pursue acquiring the OTIC building by sale or lease for $1.
The town’s Administration and Finance executive committee also has reviewed the matter and has recommended the town enter into negotiations with the province to acquire the OTIC building, and that the Chamber share services to occupy it.
The annual operating costs to provide this service will be forwarded to the 2013 budget process.
The executive committee reasoned that the town “has expended significant funds refurbishing assets like the ‘Hallett,’ [lookout] tower, and museum, and believes that given the uncertainty of the town’s major industry, we should be increasing our emphasis on capturing a greater percentage of our ‘drive-through’ tourism market,” noted Drysdale.
The RRFDC will evaluate the impact of having students hand out tourism information at the border this summer and report back to council in the fall.