Webinars present concepts for Shevlin, Gateway projects

Ken Kellar

A pair of meetings have shed additional light on the possible futures of two pieces of property in town.

Last night HTFC Planning & Design, the company that has been hired as consultant both for the Shevlin wood yard project and the Gateway to Fort Frances revitalization project, held their second of two public webinars to allow the citizens of Fort Frances to take a virtual tour of some of the concepts that have been designed for the two locations. HTFC’s Maureen Krauss, Jeff Frank and Glen Manning held the presentation via Zoom and discussed the concepts they had come up with based in part on some of the suggestions collected from the public through a visioning session in February and an online survey that ran until early March

Beginning with the Gateway to Fort Frances project, HTFC noted that they had made some changes to the way some streets in the area would function, such as turning the section of road from Scott Street south to the Church Street and Central Ave. intersection into a one-way street that would function as two queue lanes for travellers heading across the border and one through lane for local traffic.

The possibility of having a queue lane for those waiting to cross in the busy tourist months tied in to other proposed concepts for the Gateway Project, such as using a digital pass system, which was likened to similar technology used in amusement parks, as well as enhanced pedestrian access to the downtown area and Rainy Lake Square, which would allow those travellers stuck in line the chance to get out and explore the downtown. Additional parking space for those coming into town was also proposed, which would couple with creating more greenspace in the laneway beside the current Bell building on Church Street to help entice visitors to the downtown core.

The second half of the presentation from HTFC was in regards to the two concepts that had been designed for the Shevlin Wood Yard. Krauss said that the company was impressed by the number of responses they had seen both in person at the visioning workshop held in February as well as the public responses to the survey that went live soon after.

What they took away from the public input, the company said, was that there was a desire for additional housing in the area, both of mixed income and tenure such as a low-rise apartment building or townhomes, as well as assisted living spaces. The public also said that some kind of recreation space should be planned for the area, with a water play pad being given as an example on one slide. The final major suggestions revolved around economic development, such as building a hotel, distillery or conference centre.

Two concepts that had been drawn up by HTFC for the space were then presented, with it being noted that while the major elements were similar between the concepts, the overall layout was different. Both concepts had an emphasis on promoting the marina and keeping parking space there so that it could still be used as a site for cultural and entertainment events like the bass tournament, and the plans also both featured a significant amount of housing options, which HTFC stressed were designed to be of mixed income and tenure, rather than high end lots. An apartment building with an overlooking view of the river and Rainy Lake were proposed, along with an economic attraction like a brew pub. Both concepts also included some kind of green space that the consultants said could easily incorporate a spray park –something they said was strongly requested in their information gathering.

Two controversial elements of both designs that came up at Wednesday’s session were a proposition for a hotel and conference centre, as well as what some viewers of the webinar called a lack of tourism opportunities. One commenter referred to a study they alleged was done a few years ago that said the town of Fort Frances could not support another hotel in the area. Other concerns expressed were that a focus on housing and developments in the area would fail to provide tourism opportunities that would attract and keep tourists in Fort Frances.

HTFC’s Glenn Manning addressed both the concerns, noting that the plans are still very high level and not a guarantee that any one concept will be implemented.

“What we’re really doing at this point is gauging the community’s interest,” Manning said.

“We’re reflecting back some of the thing’s we’ve heard, this [hotel/conference centre] idea came up several times during public engagement, we’ve heard it through our steering committee and other sources and there was some background research that supported this as well, but part of our assessment of this idea, and the idea’s really providing commercial space and takes advantage of the riverfront and marina access is unencumbered by the road, there are lots of other things that could work in the space as well.”

Additionally, Manning stressed that the public input received by HTFC so far weighs in favour of using the space in a more balanced measure than some members of the public might be expecting.
“We weren’t looking at this being primarily a tourist focus,” he explained.

“The direction we were getting from our steering committee and from the first round of public engagement is this needed to be a balanced development, that we were looking at serving the community and providing some tourism opportunities, so this is not going to be the tourism mecca that some people might have hoped it would be. We’re looking to fill some voids, a whole spectrum of things that were identified as needs for the community.”

In all the webinars each lasted roughly two hours with a question period after each concept was presented. Those on the webinar were also polled by HTFC to get their support for different components of the designs, with the second concept of the Shevlin Woodyard seeming to be the more popular choice among Wednesday’s participants. Krauss said that just under 110 people had registered to take part in the seminars, split closely down the middle for each session.

The next steps of the process will be a second survey that will be made available to the public, and HTFC said they plan to release the recording of the webinar to the public so that those who were unable to take part in Tuesday’s or Wednesday’s session will still be able to watch them, without the interactive components. Following the survey and more work being done on a business case and cost estimate and implementation plan, another community open house will be held in July. HTFC hopes that COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted by then, but the event could be held in a different format if need be.

The final report from HTFC is expected to be prepared by the end of summer.