By next summer, Fort Frances could have a new market square that will reflect the landscape and history of the region, while serving multiple purposes.
Last January, the town hired Scatliff + Miller + Murray, headquartered in Winnipeg, Man., to design a square on the site of the former Rainy Lake Hotel. Built in 1928 in the Spanish Revival architectural style, the 12,000-square-foot hotel had served as a social hub for the town until it closed just over a decade ago.
With no prospects for redevelopment on the horizon, JMX Contracting was awarded a nearly $600,000 demolition contract and took the building down in October, 2015, leaving a large, empty footprint in the town's centre core.
That's when Scatliff + Miller + Murray got to work. In early 2016, the architectural firm held two public consultation sessions to gather public input, said David Bodnarchuk, a landscape architect with the firm.
"That helped us put together a punch list of all the things that people wanted to see happen there," he said. "Ultimately, in the end, I think most of the public requests were accommodated in one way or another."
A key goal of the project was to "create a place that spoke to the region," Bodnarchuk said. A border town that attracts American visitors who may be unfamiliar with the area, Fort Frances has unique natural attributes and cultural touchstones that the firm wanted to highlight.
"Fort Frances is a unique place," Bodnarchuk said. "It's where the Great Plains meet the Canadian Shield. If you go a little bit south, you're into flat prairie land almost, and if you go to the north or the east, you're into more rugged Canadian Shield. It's a transition zone, and so we wanted to draw from that."
The square will feature a covered stage for concerts and performances, as well as an open area where tents can be set up for a farmers market. Intimate seating areas with moveable furniture will abut the stage, and room has been left open where small cafes or restaurants could be set up in the future.
Light towers installed on either side of the square mimic the hydro transmission towers that dot the area's landscape for a "playful way of setting the stage and reminding people that this is what it feels to be in this area," Bodnarchuk said. Panels installed in the towers will even allow artwork to be displayed publicly.