Imagine a new town center in Avon Lake, with restaurants overlooking Lake Erie. A convention center and hotel in Lorain, where the Black River meets the lake. A channel and marina lined with townhomes in Sheffield Lake. A stormwater education center in Vermilion. And a trail along 28 miles of U.S. 6 linking the projects for bicyclists and pedestrians.
The concepts for Lorain County’s four lakefront cities are just that: big ideas, without interested developers or public cost estimates, aimed at increasing economic development and providing better access to the lake for tourists and residents alike. Eventually officials hope the entire shoreline could be one branded destination, like North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
“They’re wonderful proposals,” said Avon Lake Mayor Greg Zilka. “In order to have anything happen, you have to dream big and then debate and discuss.”
The Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency gave a $86,000 grant, aimed at encouraging integrated transportation, land use planning and community livability.
Now, before officials apply for more grants or request proposals, they want residents to give feedback at a meeting at 6 p.m. Oct. 5 at Lakeview Park in Lorain.
“From a regional perspective, this is precisely the type of cooperation and coordination we like to see among communities,” NOACA spokeswoman Jocelynn Clemings said in an email. “This project is a great example of connecting communities, people and our great lake!”
County Commissioner Matt Lundy began the process after he was elected in 2014. Before then, as a state representative, he and now-Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish had unsuccessfully proposed a statewide lakefront plan. Lundy kept hearing from constituents, “We’ve got this great lakefront. Why don’t we have lakefront restaurants?” He wanted to band the lakefront communities together and create more access to the region’s best asset.
Lundy encouraged mayors to “make a wish on a lakefront project,” he said. And the NOACA grant let the county hire Environmental Design Group, which designed the popular Solstice Steps at Lakewood Park.
The goal was to incorporate those visions into walkable enclaves that let people enjoy Lake Erie, said Environmental Design Director Michelle Johnson. “These are a vision to drum up excitement for future development.”
Here’s what’s in each plan.
Avon Lake: A mixed-use town center, built behind a Ford dealership, with a pier. The historic train station would remain.
Lorain: Townhomes, condos, retail and office space, a convention center and an eight-story hotel, with the intent of extending downtown from Broadway, along the Black River and to the lake.
Sheffield Lake: A causeway from the lake to a development, with a boat channel beneath a road and townhomes surrounding a marina. The library would be moved. A grocery store would be retained.
Vermilion: A stormwater education center and pavilion with seating on a hill overlooking the lake and train tracks.
The cities do not plan to use eminent domain to acquire property, Lundy said. Would-be developers would have to make offers to buy the land for whatever plans they eventually propose.
“Everybody always wants a walking path, or a bike path. I think it’s great,” said Vermilion Mayor Eileen Bulan. Her city, which is also in Erie County, doubles its population in the summer, with all the cottages and boats. She’d love to see the trail continue on to Huron.
In Lorain, the Rockin’ on the River Friday night concert series has successfully drawn thousands of people to downtown Lorain, Mayor Chase Ritenauer said. But the city still has some of the most developable lakefront property, with some of the best views in Ohio. And much of it is publicly owned.
“Certainly it is not something that’s going to happen overnight,” Ritenaur said. “If we continue to grind away at it we can get to the point where what we can see in the plan is a reality.”
Zilka agreed. “If 30 or 40 years ago someone had done the same study, we might be looking a little different now.”