In Our Words: Build or bust for Main Street

Lately, I’ve heard a lot of fanfare about efforts to encourage business along Main Street. A revitalization committee for the area has been struck and some ideas from that committee have entered Flin Flon’s zeitgeist.

So far, the ideas have been good. The new Main ARTery project, through which banners with pieces by local artists will be hung up along Main Street, is a solid start for this.

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That said, I feel it’s time to think big with Main Street, mostly because as a resident and consumer, there seem to be some issues with the area - not with the businesses, not with the people getting involved to fix things, but with the area as a whole.

Hanging some banners with local art is a good start. The Main ARTery project is a fine idea and I’m sure the execution will be good, but can we talk about a much bigger problem? Let’s talk about the state of Main Street itself. Good chunks of it really need work.

Think about someone coming to Flin Flon’s Main Street for the first time. If they come in from the north along the perimeter, the first thing they see is the Flin Flon Community Hall, the Barrow Provincial Building (the place everyone I know just calls ‘Red Square’), Pioneer Square, a parking lot and… the Flin Flon Hotel.

I wasn’t even in school yet when the Flin Flon Hotel was shut down. I now have a degree, car payments and phone bills – and until recently, not much has happened there.

How did Flin Flon, as a community, allow the biggest building on Main Street to sit mostly derelict for more than two decades? Keeping one of the largest potential businesses on Main Street at a prime location unopened seems absurd on first glance. Maybe it had to do with ownership, maybe there were projects I’m not aware of that didn’t pan out, but the end result was still the same.

Meanwhile, if you come in from Creighton, after the strip of homes and businesses on South Main, the first major building on Main Street that you see – the former Co-Op building – is mostly vacant. Businesses still call the building home downstairs and some of the space upstairs is in use, but most of it is just… there.

For a person coming to Main Street who has never been there before, in all likelihood, one of the first things they see coming from the north or south is a big, old and mostly vacant building. Not exactly rolling out the welcome wagon, is it?

But hey, at least those buildings are still standing and there’s still something going on there. Efforts to transform the Flin Flon Hotel are ongoing and there’s construction taking place inside, and somewhere around a half-dozen businesses currently call the Co-op building home.

At least there are buildings there. There are some portions of property along the street that don’t even have that. I counted a total of nine vacant lots along on Main Street, most of which have been left fallow for years. That climbs to 10 if you count the Garden of Memory, which needs a little TLC these days, and possibly even higher if you count some locations where other buildings used to be, like the old InstaLoans building site.

Nothing replaced the Hong Kong when it was torn down. Nothing replaced the Crepes ‘N Grapes building, or even the Custom Tailor Suits building. That’s been gone for years and now, it’s just a walkway between the Church Street parking lot and the Main Street sidewalk.

How did that happen? Why was there not a rush to rebuild there? How did we just let this real estate rot? Is Main Street just not a desirable location for new business owners to set up shop?

In addition to that, what about some of the storefronts along Main Street than don’t seem to be in use? There are some buildings that have no signs, no information or any real discernible signs of life or business along there. What’s happening with these buildings?

Is it a business move? Are there just not groups who want to open businesses in Flin Flon? I doubt that. Is there red tape with buying or operating a business along the street? Tax issues? I don’t know about the background behind that, but the end result is pretty clear.

During the place branding meeting that took place in Creighton earlier this year, the speakers mentioned an initiative in Maple Creek, Sask. In order to improve the look of their own main drag, the community invested big money in improving the facades of individual businesses. Members of the Main Street Revitalization Committee mentioned it as something that Flin Flon could, someday, emulate.

That’s a good idea, but if we really want to fix issues with our Main Street, it’s going to take more than a fresh coat of paint. It’s going to take either construction or some measure to entice business in to make something sustainable.

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