ELYRIA — A long-range plan to redevelop the shoreline from Avon Lake to Vermilion includes lakefront living, waterfront parks and a new conference center and hotel, but it lacks funding.
Wednesday morning, Michelle Johnson, director of the Environmental Design Group, presented the final Lorain County Lakefront Connectivity Plan to county commissioners, who will help to find the money to pay for it.
“Obviously, these plans are expensive, but this is the planning process,” Commissioner Matt Lundy said. “You have to have these types of plans. You have to have a concept. Then, if all the parties in those areas are interested in someday working with investors to make it all possible, we have some plans to move it all forward.”
The lakefront plan, paid through an $84,000 grant from the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency with the county and Lorain County Metro Parks each chipping in $1,000, aims to answer a key question. Can greater pedestrian and cyclist connectivity between the lakefront communities of Avon Lake, Sheffield Lake, Lorain and Vermilion bring more people and revenue to those cities?
Johnson, who worked with stakeholders and residents across the region to solicit input, said Lorain County could to do just that. A combination of public and private partnerships and developments could change the landscape of the lakefront, she said.
It is a sentiment shared by Commissioner Ted Kalo.
“I think the tourism and lakefront accessibility is the next big economic development frontier for this county,” he said.
Funding, said Grace Gallucci, executive director of NOACA, will be hard to come by, but Lorain County’s plan pushes the municipalities farther down the line toward the implementation process. Additionally, the focus on transportation in all forms — biking, walking and vehicular — also makes the plan stand out regionally.
“The most important thing that NOACA would like to comment on is we are very pleased to be able to provide to communities the planning funds to achieve some of the economic development plans in their communities,” she said. “This really stresses how transportation and transportation infrastructures are really the foundation of any kind of economic development. Without the transportation plans in terms of mobility and access, you are very, very compromised in the ability to develop an area economically.”
Gallucci called Lorain County’s plans “outstanding.”
“It really demonstrates that the entire lakefront in Lorain County can be connected, that it really is an issue of access to the lakefront and to provide citizens with the quality of life they deserve,” she said.
So what are the if-we-build-it-they-will-come plans for each lakefront city? Every community looked at least at one site as a reinvestment site that can be as much about economic development as it is about connectivity.
- Vermilion is aiming to create a lakefront park just west of the old Ford plant in Lorain. Right now, it is a junkyard for cars, but the idea is to turn it into a park where people can enjoy the woods and wetlands of the area that is near the lakefront. With a railroad nearby, an elevator platform will give visitors an opportunity to see the trains and the lakefront vista.
“The one thing I wanted to say in regards to this lakefront connectivity plan is that Vermilion is somewhat unique among small lakefront towns in that we vigorously embrace the lake,” said Vermilion Mayor Jim Forthofer. “The lake, for the city of Vermilion, isn’t just a pretty backdrop along with the Vermilion River. The lake is the reason we exist.”
As such, Forthofer supports the plan 100 percent and sees it as an asset to every city along the lakeshore corridor.
- Lorain wants to focus on developing new finger piers to help expand boating. In addition, the final plan also includes a conference center that could hold between 500 and 1,000 people, a hotel and restaurant. A full promenade to the river and public open space also is included. Lorain officials said city hall could possibly be used as prime development space.
Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer said the plan is about progress for Lorain as well as the region.
“The lake is often called our greatest asset, and this plan works in unity with Lorain and other lakefront communities in visioning a more utilized, developed lakefront,” he said.
- Sheffield Lake wants to see a marina district developed by the existing boat launch. The angle of the way boats would launch into the break wall would be reconfigured, so instead of heading directly north, boaters would pull out into a causeway that is currently land. It wants to fully redevelop the marina district. To make this work, a public and private partnership would be required. The big thing will be public access and creating what feels like a riverfront walkway for residents and visitors with new housing and restaurants.
Sheffield Lake Mayor Dennis Bring said the connectivity plan is a cooperative vision for the area with a lot of input from multiple stakeholders, and he is excited to begin pursuing implementation funding.
- Avon Lake is looking to develop an area just east to the power plant. The plan would play off the lakefront access and emphasizing waterfront recreation. The district would have businesses, offices and even a space for a restaurant and container beach that stops just short of allowing residents to put their feet in the water.
Avon Lake Mayor Greg Zilka said the plan only strengthens the city’s commitment to developing the lakefront.
“It has given us a plan to guide us and a sense of direction to encourage us to make every effort to make Lake Erie more accessible to our residents,” he said.