Work on old Fort High moving ahead

Developers are moving quickly to work on the old Fort Frances High School property on First Street East after town council on Friday approved an amended bylaw sealing a deal between the town and Charlie Morken, Steve Both, and Russell Pollard.
“They’re working inside as we speak,” Mayor Glenn Witherspoon said yesterday, adding he’s aware a contractor soon will be on the scene to start roofing.
While the three developers did not respond to any calls from the Times by press time today, they previously had told council—prior to Friday’s agreement—that they wanted to start work on the property as soon as possible.
Council had voted 4-3 against the original agreement at a special meeting last Wednesday afternoon, claiming it did not clearly define how much in concessions the town would grant the developers as an incentive to do something with the property.
But the parties were able to shake hands after council voted 6-1 in favour of an amended version of that agreement during another special meeting Friday afternoon (Coun. Struchan Gilson was the lone dissenter).
That pleased Mayor Witherspoon, who’s been a staunch supporter of the project since it first came before council.
“I think I’ve said all along, if we don’t give them some incentives, it won’t move along,” he noted.
“This development will mean more office space, a bigger tax base, and be an overall ‘lifeline’ for the downtown area,” the mayor added.
“It think it’s a positive move forward,” agreed Geoff Gillon, the town’s economic development officer who had been working to find a use for the old high school property almost since it’s been vacant.
“I’m hoping they’re going to create more jobs in downtown Fort Frances—that’s what matters most to me,” he added.
The bylaw passed Friday will see the town allow up to $100,000 in municipal service costs, such as waived tipping fees, zoning and building permit fees, etc.
The developers have seven-and-a half years to complete the project, which will consist of demolishing part of the old high school and renovating three remaining structures to lease out to clients.
There also are tax breaks in the agreement, but Coun. Neil Kabel stressed these are not as overtly generous as have been rumoured on the street. The developers will have to pay one-third of the taxes the first year, two-thirds the next, and full taxes the third and every year thereafter.
“I believe this development to be an asset to the town, not a liability. I believe very much in it,” said Coun. Kabel, who also had supported the original bylaw.
“We have to do something with that property.”
“One, I think it’s too much. We’re dealing with business people here. They’re going to make a profit of it,” Coun. Gilson argued yesterday in defending his stance against the deal.
“Two, if we do it for one, we’re going to have to do it for all,” he added.
“It was special deal, a one-shot deal,” Coun. Gilson continued. “But what are we going to say to people like Dr. Dan [Pierroz, who along with Dr. Chris Cannon, want to build a new animal clinic in the west end]?
“It’s good to get it done, and see something happen on that property. But still, we’re giving up $100,000 worth of services,” he stressed.
The Rainy River District School Board announced Sept. 2 that the building had been sold for $1. The developers had signed a memorandum of understanding with the town outlining their intentions back in July.