GEAUGA LAKE – Excavators have been humming on the Bainbridge Township side of Geauga Lake and homes are going up on Aurora’s side as redevelopment ramps up at the sites of the former Geauga Lake Park, Sea World of Ohio and Wildwater Kingdom.
With plans for "reigniting this iconic landmark," the multi-use district already has town houses and single-family homes built and sold, while more are planned, along with apartments, offices and retail.
None of the former roller coasters, rides, water slides and other attractions were left behind by Geauga Lake’s former owner Cedar Fair, but remnants such as ride/building concrete pads, asphalt and walkways remained.
Geauga Lake Park dates to 1887, when it was called Giles Pond and soon after Picnic Lake Park. It closed for good in 2007. Wildwater Kingdom remained until 2016.
The only significant building remaining is the ballroom along state Route 43 between East Boulevard and Moneta Avenue, just north of the Geauga Lake Improvement Corp.’s small lakeside park.
For several years, the property deteriorated and became an eyesore and a place for trespassing and vandalism.
Creating a community
Sitetech Inc., located in Grafton, has been recycling and removing thousands of tons of aggregate for the past few months on the Bainbridge side of the lake. The firm specializes in demolition, earthwork and underground utilities.
“We’ve made great strides with the demolition efforts over the last nine months on this sprawling property,” said Jeff Martin, senior vice president of development for Industrial Commercial Properties of Solon, the firm redeveloping most of the Bainbridge side of the lake.
“We’ve crushed 52,000 tons of concrete and 10,000 tons of asphalt, which will all be recycled and repurposed throughout our project as aggregate base materials for future roads, trails and utility backfill operations," he noted.
“We’ve completed about 50 percent of the demolition activities, which has been a slow-go given the massive foundation systems and amount of impervious cover that remained after the park’s closure.”
He added ICP has applied for a state demolition/revitalization grant to continue with the efforts, but has yet to learn the status of that application.
“We’re crossing our fingers that the state can help us move this large demolition effort forward,” Martin said. “To that end, we’re working closely with Bainbridge trustees and staff to analyze and design the property to exceed regional stormwater requirements and improve drainage around the lake.
“Over the balance of this year, we hope to complete the initial infrastructure efforts of extending utilities to the site and building a new road that will separate the commercial district from the lakefront district,” he added.
“There are some exciting plans in the works for the lakefront district that will surely restore the prominence of the Geauga Lake name, while creating a community with restaurants and recreational amenities to attract people across the region.”
'A mix of property types'
Offices and restaurants also are planned on the Bainbridge side, along with a 331-unit apartment complex to be called VP Park at Geauga Lake.
ICP bought 377 acres on the Bainbridge side, then sold 19.5 acres to Vision Development of Columbus. Pulte Homes bought 246 acres on the north side of Treat Road on the Aurora side.
ICP is developing its portion of the multi-use site as the Geauga Lake District, while VD plans to erect the apartments closest to the lake and Pulte is building 308 town/single-family homes and has designated a 20-acre parcel near Liberty Ford for retail.
“We are reigniting this iconic landmark,” said ICP owner Chris Semarjian last year. “The redevelopment will not only create a fully functioning district where people can live, work, dine and recreate, it also will have a broader impact on economic development and job creation in the region.”
Austin Semarjian, ICP vice president of leasing and acquisitions, said VD will start construction on the apartment complex made up of 14 buildings after land clearing is completed. Units will range from studios at 325 square feet to three-bedrooms at nearly 2,000 square feet.
“We are very excited about the project,” said VD President and CEO Brent Wrightsel. “There haven’t been any new apartments in quite some time in this area. For growing communities, it’s vital to have a mix of property types to meet the needs of all residents.”
The development will include a building housing a state-of-the-art workout facility offering classes in personal fitness. There also will be a clubhouse with decks off the back next to the lake.
Wrightsel said his firm worked diligently getting input from Bainbridge officials on the style and amenities of the proposed complex, even on details as specific as its name. It will incorporate elements of the park’s history into the project.
The lake will play a key role. It measures about 50 acres, and a walkway will be built for use by apartment dwellers and the general public. A tiered sitting area overlooking the lake will include fire pits, volleyball courts, a pool and dog park.
Additionally, half of the land will remain undeveloped, with a focus on walking trails, parks and woodlands.
In trying to incorporate some of the history of the site into the redevelopment, ICP has decided to name a main street on the Bainbridge side Big Dipper Lane in honor of the park’s longtime wooden roller coaster, which was built in 1925.
A miniature replica of the Big Dipper is another structure which could adorn the property.
Meanwhile, on Aurora’s former Sea World side of the lake, Pulte Homes has already erected 50 town houses and 36 two-story, single-family homes off Squires Road north of Liberty Ford and west of the former Norfolk Southern Railroad tracks.
According to Pulte’s website, 34 single-family homes along River Run Road and all but 15 town houses along Dipper Lane have been sold. Grading and infrastructure work is underway for 97 more units west of the railroad tracks, with two other streets proposed.
With an entrance off Treat Road across from the Tara subdivision, the area east of the tracks, where grading also is taking place, will consist of 125 ranch-style homes along five streets with two cul-de-sacs.
More than half of the 246-acre community will be dedicated to woodlands, nature preserves, walking trails and “pocket” parks.
Bainbridge Township trustees met with a handful of stakeholders June 22 at the property to view two recently constructed detention basins and discuss challenges, realities and expectations of complying with court-approved stormwater requirements.
“We hope eventually development both in Aurora and Bainbridge will present a cohesive mixed-use area that is attractive and productive for both communities,” Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin said earlier this year.
She explained Aurora-owned water and sanitary sewer lines already run to the property – and have for years – “so any new businesses and residences will just have to tie in. The city is prepared for that.”
Meanwhile, the mayor has said Aurora and Bainbridge are slowly working on implementing terms of a Joint Economic Development District agreement, including setting up its governing board.
A JEDD allows income tax from the businesses locating in the Bainbridge portion of the Geauga Lake District to be shared between the two communities. Townships can’t collect income tax without a JEDD.
Will Menards and Meijer be coming to the site?
A Menards home improvement store and a Meijer supercenter are among the first businesses that could locate there. Geauga County real estate records show Menards has purchased 20 acres of former amusement park land along Route 43.
The large parking area north of the former park’s main entrance gate is where the two stores would go, but that area has not been touched yet by excavation equipment.
Menards currently has Northeast Ohio locations in Brimfield Township, Cuyahoga Falls, Cleveland, Avon, Mentor, Massillon and Warren.
Meijer’s Northeast Ohio locations are in Stow, Brimfield Township, Avon, Lorain, Seven Hills, Mentor, Brunswick, Canton and Boardman.
A representative from Menards would not comment on the firm’s future plans for the local store, while a Meijer spokesman did not respond to the Advocate’s request for comment.
“With greater residential density planned for our property and Pulte Homes’ project under construction in Aurora, the demand for commercial entities will be strong,” added ICP Chief Operating Officer Chris Salata.
“We hope this redevelopment will be a benefit to all and something the community will be proud of,” Bainbridge trustee Jeff Markley said when ICP first announced its plans. “The trustees will communicate with residents as best we can as the project progresses.”
“A lot of work has gone into the redevelopment process over the last few years,” added trustee Kristina O’Brien. “We want to make this a destination spot and bring back the history of Geauga Lake Park, but this process will take time.”
This article originally appeared on Record-Courier: From roller coasters to residences, retail and restaurants