For over 100 years, the land around Lake Geauga – once known as Picnic Lake and Giles Pond – was a haven for picnickers and thrill seekers, not to mention those who enjoyed marine animals and attractions for about three decades.
In their prime, Geauga Lake Park and the Sea World of Ohio each drew a million people to the shores of Geauga Lake. Then, a few years after the turn of the 21st century, it all came to an end. The marine animals, rides, water attractions, and buildings disappeared.
Now the land is on its way to a new life as the Geauga Lake District, a mixed-use settlement that the new owners hope to include shops, restaurants, institutions, offices, and lakeside homes while incorporating the history of the location into the landscape.
“The board knows the property will never be the same, but is aware of the tens of thousands of people celebrating the story and keeping the memories of Geauga Lake and Sea World alive on social media,” said the trustees of Bainbridge Township last fall.
Trustees and officials from Industrial Commercial Properties, who purchased 377 acres around the lake, recently outlined plans for the property at a public meeting. Trustee Jeff Markley said the property is being cleared of trees.
“From now on, passers-by will see constant activity on the site,” said Markley. “We hope that this renovation will benefit everyone and that the community will be proud of it. The trustees will communicate with residents as best they can as the project progresses. “
ICP actively markets the website to retailers, restaurants, residential and other commercial users.
The first company to be part of the Geauga Lake District is Menards, a national hardware store chain that will occupy 24 acres of the former parking lot along Route 43 on the northwest side of the lake. It is planned to open an approximately 200,000 square meter complex in early 2022.
“A lot of work has been put into the recovery process in recent years,” added Bainbridge Trustee Kristina O’Brien. “We want to make this a destination and bring back the history of Geauga Lake Park, but this process will take time.”
As activity begins on the north side of the lake, Pulte Homes of Ohio has in recent months started converting the former Sea World parking lot and campground on the north side of Treat Road and the east side of Squires Road in Aurora into 306 Renaissance homes Park at Geauga Lake.
ICP acquired the property from Cedar Fair last fall for an undisclosed price. Markley said some issues remain to be resolved in Geauga County’s Common Pleas Court after ICP challenged Bainbridge’s zoning board of appeal denials.
He said the deviations sought would be to allow the development of a large retail store and multi-story residential building with no commercial or retail use on the first floor. The deviation problems were resolved in a court ruling.
Markley said the legal action was never confrontational and necessary because the BZA did not want to approve large deviations that would have allowed the Menards to be built.
Meanwhile, Markley said the community has approved an agreement to fund tax increases for the Geauga Lake District to be used as a subsidy for rehabilitation, infrastructure and other community improvement projects.
And the community and Aurora have reached a joint economic development district agreement that allows the two to share income tax from the district and Aurora employees to provide water and sanitation utilities for the property.
The JEDD enables Aurora’s 2 percent income tax revenue to be split as follows: 25 percent each to general city and community funds, 25 percent to funding the operations of Aurora utilities, and 25 percent to the JEDD board of directors to meet the needs of the district.
Last fall, ICP owner Chris Semarjian said the company wanted to set the iconic property on fire again. “Not only will it create a fully functional neighborhood where people can live, work, dine and relax, but it will also have a broader impact on economic development and job creation in the region,” he said.
Chris Salata, ICP’s chief operating officer, added, “Many of us who grew up in northeast Ohio have fond memories of the park and that was important to our development team, trustees and mayor [of Aurora] that we respect the remarkable history of the property and take great care in creating design elements such as signage, landscaping, lighting and other public enhancements.
“Since a higher residential density is planned for our property and the Pulte project in Aurora, which is currently under construction, the demand for commercial users will be strong.”
ICP spokesman Jeff Martin said the company plans to set up historical markers to educate people about the former park. There are also plans to place a replica roller coaster in the middle of the future Geauga Lake Boulevard, which connects Route 43 with Depot Road.
“We want it to be a walkable community with public access to the lake,” said Martin, adding that the Western Reserve’s architecture is planned, as well as a clubhouse, recreation building and other amenities.
Markley said the community could eventually build a satellite fire station to service the new development and adjacent areas. When asked about prices for new houses, condos and apartments in the countryside, he said it was too early in the project to provide figures.