Geauga Lake could come back to life under Aurora’s $4.5 million proposal

Aurora Geauga Lake rendering

Aurora’s Geauga Lake area is well on the way to a rebirth.

And while it won’t feature an amusement park and marine center, a splashy plan the city proposed this week would give lake access back to the community at a cost of about $4.5 million.

“The lake has been a recreational attraction of the community for decades, and to lose access when the parks closed was certainly disappointing,” Aurora Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin said.

But that’s about to change. Womer Benjamin presented a proposal to Aurora City Council on June 12 to acquire Geauga Lake together with 40 acres of lakefront land in the former Sea World from Industrial Commercial Properties, the company that owns the land that once was home to Geauga Lake Amusement Park and Sea World Ohio.

The mayor said that while plans for the property are not final, she is expecting the city to redevelop the property into a public park with a pool, beach and related amenities, non-motorized boating and other recreational attractions. As part of the agreement, ICP would build a public trail or boardwalk around the lake, which would be transferred to the city once it was constructed.

Womer Benjamin said this is a project the city has been working on for a couple years.

“This is a legacy purchase for the people of Aurora,” she said. “It is the opportunity of a lifetime to guarantee our residents lake access and a destination that is going to be one of the gems of Northeast Ohio.”

Redevelopment in the area has included a new Liberty Ford facility, and in the last several years Pulte Homes has been constructing residential developments on some of the property along Squires and Treat roads. But Womer Benjamin said the city’s purchase of 40 acres of lakefront land and the 53-acre spring-fed lake has a different focus.

“To reinstitute lake access coupled with a park and recreational amenities will enhance the overall community and enable the public to enjoy a beautiful area of Northeast Ohio,” she said. “Furthermore, instead of housing units we will have green space.”

To pay for the acquisition, the city will use about $1.3 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds, with the remainder coming from general-fund money budgeted for this purpose.

Under the purchase agreement, ICP will not only build a trail and boardwalk around Geauga Lake, which the City of Aurora will then own and maintain, but also will pay for a substantial portion of the demolition cost of some of the remaining structures on the 40 acres of land being acquired by Aurora.

The mayor said some of the structures may be saved and rehabilitated for use in the city’s plans, including the iconic Sea World aquarium, which could be redeveloped as a restaurant or similar facility.

Site work on the property is expected to begin within 12 months after demolition is completed.

“While we have some initial conceptual plans for the property, we intend to be thoughtful and deliberate in its development,” Womer Benjamin said. “We expect to tackle this project in stages but are eager to provide public access as soon as reasonably possible. There are still many decisions to be made and more to come on this exciting opportunity.”

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Tom Hardesty is a Portager sports columnist. He was formerly assistant sports editor at the Record-Courier and author of the book Glimpses of Heaven.