Build the fort and more, they will come
As I have for more than a decade, I spent the past weekend at the Fort La Presentation Association’s Founder’s Weekend.
The annual re-enactment and colonial trade fair began as a single-day event with barely more than a dozen French and Indian War re-enactors gathered on Van Rensselaer Point to commemorate the fortified mission’s 10-year history from 1749 to 1759 and the 1760 Battle of the Thousand Islands.
The high-water mark for the event was 2010 when the fort association hosted New York State’s final 250th-anniversary commemoration of the French and Indian War with nearly 1,000 participants.
That year a survey of participants and visitors indicated about $500,000 was pumped into the local economy over a seven- to 10-day period.
A visitor’s exit survey was conducted again this year. I look forward to the publication of the findings.
I know re-enactors and exhibitors spend locally on groceries, gas, beverages and meals. I gave directions to Hosmer’s, saw many in the Freight House and others told me they patronized Little Italy.
When I distributed honoraria checks to the boat commanders Sunday, some indicated they planned to cash them before leaving.
Most of the participants were gone by 5:00pm Sunday, but others remained to depart on Monday.
I cannot speak to the spending of visitors to Founder’s Weekend. Anecdotally, about 50 percent of visitors lived in Ogdensburg.
I spoke to families from Watertown, Canton, Potsdam, Hammond, Morley, other local communities and Ottawa and Kemptville, Ontario. Coincidentally, all are regular, if not annual visitors to Founder’s Weekend.
Surprisingly, none mentioned they were attracted by the Seaway Festival.
Admittedly my bias is to the efforts of the Fort La Présentation Association, so I expect the expanded presence of a completed fort will be a major multi-season attraction.
As are tourists, re-enactors and heritage interpreters are drawn to historic sites with period structures.
Popular venues akin to future La Présentation are the Fort at Number Four in New Hampshire and in Quebec Forts Chambly and Lennox. They have French and Indian War connections.
Picture the completed walls and four bastions of La Présentation overlooking the water.
Imagine the attractions housed within: space to interpret life at the fort; space for a museum; space for comfort amenities; space for visiting displays; space for school activities; space for annual events; and space for the imagination.
I am a proponent of building Fort de La Présentation. I know there will be a significant operational-cost challenge to running a facility the year round…I’ll wager not surprisingly different from operating an interpretive center/museum.
As the fort association is aware, a development and operation feasibility study is essential, and for which funding is being sought.
Ogdensburg has a rich history to commemorate, a history when brought front and center is bound to draw heritage tourists.
The time has come to move forward.
The fort association is moving incrementally ahead. People in the City of Ogdensburg have to step up to envision a viable future, too.
Commercial promises of the Seaway never materialized. Unprecedented economic growth never happened.
The population of the city has been in decline since 1960. Industry has eroded away. The current tax base cannot sustain the city.
I am an advocate to heritage tourism and have touted the potential in previous columns.
There is another non-industrial track for economic development. The new economy is technology based.
Condos on the waterfront aren’t going to cut it.
Planning and development must consider cutting-edge, dynamic high-tech industries. Consider the ways high-power computer spinoffs impact society, infiltrating businesses and consumers.
The physical and economic development of the city is more than urban renewal and the rehabilitation of housing and neighborhood preservation. Declining communities across North America have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps by having the courage to look forward, exercise imagination and creativity and are brave enough to no longer dwell on past defeats.
There are five local universities with eyes on the future. Tap this resource and envision the future.
There are two tracks to the future, one is a celebration of the past and the other is a commitment exploring creative opportunities.
Michael Whittaker resides in Bishop’s Mills, Ontario, and is a former member of the Fort La Presentation Association Board of Directors. He currently serves on the association’s marketing committee. His views do not necessarily reflect the views of the association