By Karen Cornelius
On a chilly Saturday afternoon, December 9, there was a surprisingly large crowd gathered at the Ritter Public Library Community Room anxious to learn what the Wakefield House Development Committee will be recommending to the Vermilion Parks and Recreation Board concerning the future development of the former museum property at the foot of North Main Street.
Wakefield House Development Committee Chairman Jon Logue presented nearly an hour step-by-step explanation of the process his committee followed to reach their decision. Based on the realistic ability to fundraise through private donations and grants, and what option would create the most public accessibility, the committee’s end result was to demolish what is now on the property and start over with a new build, a clean slate at $1.5 million. The committee discarded two other options, a total restoration at $5 million, and a partial restoration at $3 million to demolish the addition and build a smaller stand alone building for restrooms and concessions.
Logue first gave a brief history stating the former Inland Seas Maritime Museum was acquired by the city in July of 2014, and purchased from the Great Lakes Historical Society for $1,650,000. The museum moved to Toledo and to keep the property from going to private developers for condos, there was local fundraising to keep the property for public access. He said the Western Reserve Land Conservancy stepped up to assist with funding and that state and federal government dollars were procured as well as private donations. About half from Vermilion and half from state and federal.
Logue said the museum leased the property through 2016 for storage, and the city took control in January of 2017. It was then that the Wakefield House Development Committee was formed to determine what to do with the property. The committee chose that name to distance itself from the museum site use because it would no longer be a museum. The chairman said early on there were public surveys taken to find out the community’s needs and desires. He said it was clear people wanted public restrooms, increased parking, an event venue for weddings and parties that would bring in rental revenue, and people wanted to maintain the beach sightlines. Since some funds are from government grants, there are certain strings attached to keep it public accessible so there can be no commercial private enterprise such as a high-end restaurant or a bed and breakfast. There cannot be an over-abundance of parking since there are strings for green space.
The committee hired DS Architecture of Kent, Ohio to do an assessment of the original Wakefield House and an assessment of the addition built in the 1960’s. The buildings were in poor shape with the house roof and water leakage damage and a variety of problems with the addition. It was determined a full restoration would cost $5 million with $80,000 needed annually for maintenance. This price did not include any improvements, parking, or handicap access. To use the buildings that are there an event center would have to go in the upper level of the addition and have beach level restrooms, and concessions in the lower level. There would be very limited use of the Wakefield House because it is so chopped up and not readily publicly accessible. There would be no increase in available parking. There could be private donations, historic tax credit, and very limited state funding for a total restoration.
Logue said restoration had a high cost and probably not realistic for Vermilion to pull off. So, the committee investigated a partial restoration where the Wakefield House could be saved and the addition torn down. In its place free-standing restrooms and concessions could be built.This partial restoration was estimated at $3 million with $50,000 necessary for maintenance each year. There could be an increase in green space but no increase in available parking and still limted state funding with private donations and historic tax credit needed.
Going further, a third option was considered by the committee, a new build which would knock down everything there to start fresh at a cost of an estimated $1.5 million and $30,000 annually for maintenance. The new build could have rentable space, beach level restrooms, concessions, increased green space, and increased parking. Funding toward the $1.5 million could come from Clean Ohio and other state funding, and private donations. “A new build would give us everything,” said Logue. “It could be designed to be easy on maintenance and it could have a pavilion, large open porch with picnic tables, and more. We have an opportunity to make this a signature park in Vermilion.”
Logue said with their recommendation to Vermilion Parks and Recreation at their next meeting on Tuesday, December 19, the committee is done with their job. “Due to the reduced costs and operations as well as making the property more publically accessible, we will recommend to the board the present site be demolished and we start new,” said Logue. He explained it would be for another committee to be formed to decide on the design and actual usage. He said his committee has the cost estimates because they visited new builds in other communities such as the Lake Metroparks and New Russia Township at Butternut and Route 58. He said Lake Metroparks spent $300,000 plus $100,000 for utilities and $10,000 for maintenance for a facility to hold 75 people. He would like to see Vermilion at a larger capacity. He estimated $400,000 to $500,000 for a new build and another $400,000 to knock down what is there due to asbestos.
None of the costs are actual as everything would have to go out to bid from demolition to construction. The amount of parking spaces would have to be determined by city code. The westside of the current property cannot be used for parking, it must be green space where the small shipwreck house was demolished. Logue assumed the lighthouse would stay, but the pilot house was not part of the assessment. It is breaking away from the building. He stated that the decision on the pilot house would be between the city and the donor.
At the end of the presentation there was a question and answer time for the audience who seemed to be in agreement with the committee’s recommendation. One gentleman asked to make sure the property had a marine feel, a lake feel that would be all Vermilion, not just any park. Another suggested an ampitheater and another a pier on the westend to build up the beach. Logue said the Parks Board is not beyond the point of accepting ideas and people should submit them to the Parks Board. He said they have talked about these various things, but haven’t started. That’s for the next committee. It could even be one big green park, but that didn’t seem likely.
Logue said his committee would be making the very same presentation to Parks Board on December 19 at the municipal complex on Decatur Street at 7 p.m. for those who missed his other two public meetings on Saturday, December 9, and on Wednesday evening, December 13. He thanked his committee members mayor Eileen Bulan, councilmen Jim Forthofer and Frank Loucka, Terry Parker and Brad Scholtz from Parks Board, Peter Corogin,and Judy Kernel.