By Karen Cornelius
The Wakefield House Development Committee is ready to make a recommendation to the Vermilion Parks and Recreation Board on the best public uses for the former Inland Seas Maritime Museum property at the foot of Main Street. The public will be given three opportunities to learn about the committee’s final decision and the process leading up to the recommendation by attending open meetings at Ritter Public Library on Saturday, December 9, at 3 p.m. and on Wednesday, December 13, at 6:30 p.m. The last chance will be a presentation to the Vermilion Parks and Recreation Board at their meeting on Tuesday, December 19, at 7 p.m. at the municipal complex on Decatur Street.
The recommendation for the former museum property development is under lock and key and all of us have to attend one of those meetings to find out what is scheduled to happen at that location. Committee chairman Jon Logue stated the intent of the meetings to be held in the Ritter Community Room on the lower level is to bring people up to speed. He plans to recap everything the committee has done so far this year to work up to this point. He said these meetings are not for input.
Logue explained the Parks Board created his committee to investigate future uses of the property which was purchased in 2014 from the Great Lakes Historical Society. In 2015 and 2016 the society leased the building from the city. This year, the property became the responsibility of the city and Parks Board. Logue said the Wakefield House Development Committee first looked at what would be involved in restoring the structures on the land. To be thorough, partial restoration and new build options were investigated as well.
“From the very outset the committee pledged to be diligent and thorough in their approach,” said Logue. “It was not the intent of this committee to carry out improvements, but rather to make a recommendation to the Parks Board as to the best possible future uses of the property. It was the committee’s responsibility to make a recommendation that properly considered upfront construction/restoration costs.” He added that equally important are the long-term maintenance and carry costs associated with having a structure on the property.
“We had to get away from it being a museum property,” said the chairman. “Any future uses of the property must create the greatest possible public access, pubic use of the property, Main Street Beach, and the Wakefield Metropark.” There are also some complicating factors and government strings attached to grants as to what can be allowed on the property. “It can’t be commercial,” said Logue which cancels some people’s wishes to have a lakefront restaurant, boutiques, motel, etc. He said the intent when the property was purchased was for full public access, no private property. “It was bought as a public space.”
The investigation started in January of 2017 with the creation of the committee and the hiring of DS Architecture of Kent, Ohio to assess the buildings and compile preliminary programming for the structures as well as preliminary restoration costs. In May, building assessments and program concepts were delivered to the committee. Findings were reported at the June Parks Board meeting. Among findings was a rough estimate of $5 million to completely renovate everything. Logue said that was really just for a cleanup of what was there and did not include any improvements such as ADA access, elevator, or rental space.
This led the committee to investigate new build facilities by visiting regional parks and surrounding areas. In September and October, they investigated demolition and new build as well as partial restoration such as removing the addition and keeping the original house. He said the addition put on in the 1990’s has the biggest problems. “We concluded we had three options– complete restoration, partial restoration, or complete demo and rebuild,” said Logue. Demo would also be expensive due to asbestos removal. The committee also had to think of how to take care of the property and how it would be used 20 to 50 years in the future. Currently, this property has zero public access. “We had to decide how to take this property and make it the greatest public access possible. And, that’s where we are today.” He agreed restrooms were a priority as well as rental space to gather income which has to go back into the property for maintenance.
Once the recommendation goes to Parks Board for a vote, this development committee is done. Then, Parks will appoint another committee to take action. Logue said his committee was made up of people who had ideas for the larger Vermilion area and how uses would benefit the entire city. Some were from the fundraising committee serving back in 2013. In addition to Logue, committee members are mayor Eileen Bulan, councilmen Jim Forthofer and Frank Loucka, Terry Parker and Brad Scholtz from Parks Board, Peter Corogin, and Judy Kernel.