Is there finally a comprehensive plan for developing downtown Port Clinton and the waterfront that has the support of the Mayor, City Council and the people of Port Clinton?
The answer to that, at least amongst the majority of the more than 200 local citizens gathered at the Elk's Lodge on a blustery February night, seemed to be a guarded but enthusiastic "yes".
Port Clinton City Council President Linda Hartlaub and Mayor Vincent Leone chaired the event that featured a two-hour presentation and question and answer session by Medina-based developer Mike Rose, owner of Washington Properties Inc., and architect Dave Krebs, owner of the Cleveland architectural firm AODK Inc.
There are studies to be done, votes to be had and details to be worked out before work could begin, but if all goes smoothly Rose estimates that work could begin later this year. Last night may have been a big step forward on that path. The primary reason for last night’s presentation, according to Rose, was to make the community aware of the possibilities for the 14-acre waterfront site and “to solicit community feedback and begin a dialogue with city stakeholders.”
Rose's vision is to develop Port Clinton, The Walleye Capital of the World, as a destination regionally and nationally, to make it "a gateway, rather than an access point," to use all the area’s adjacent assets such as Cedar Point and Put-in-Bay and Kelleys Island, but to emphasize Port Clinton as the hub.
An early and integral part of the plan has the working title of Harborfront at Port Clinton and features a low-profile, three-story lodge near the waterfront. The lodge would be surrounded by shops, condos and public spaces including an amphitheater, festival promenade and pedestrian streets that connect to the boardwalk, encompass Derby Pond and flow into a revitalized downtown area.
The lodge, designed to attract fishermen and their families and corporations, would also serve as a focal point for greater community activity downtown. It would have a restaurant, conference center, spa, pub, game room, fitness center, fully-equipped docks and other amenities.
The downtown area revitalization would proceed concurrently with the Harborfront development and would focus on restoring the existing buildings to their architecturally interesting beauty, with street level shops and upper level lofts and condos. Rose and Krebs said their experience has been that if downtown buildings are cleaned up and renovated, occupancy rates have sustained at close to 100%.
Rose emphasized that a group of private investors, not the city, would put up the financing needed. “By using private investment, the city will benefit from the additional revenues that flow into city coffers without having to deplete its existing funds,” Rose said.
“We get invited to lots of communities,” said Rose, “and are very selective in who we talk to. We are very pleased with the Port Clinton people we have met.”
In Rose’s cooperative, holistic development model, “we start with a block of clay and many hands are needed to mold that clay.”
Architect Krebs said, “What jumped out for us was the stock of buildings in downtown that are so close to being beautiful. Then we got even more excited to see the potential of the waterfront.”
After the presentation, Port Clinton City Council members and the audience were invited to ask questions.
Some of those questions and answers:
Q: Councilwoman Kathy Mehl: “Are you willing to discuss a 100-year lease (for the waterfront property) or a public/private partnership?”
A: Rose: “We are willing to discuss whatever works. We don’t need to own it. We just want to work on it.”
Q: Councilwoman Deb Benko: “How would you make it year-round?”
A: Rose and Krebs: “We have figured out plans so far for events for a solid nine months.”
Q: Councilwoman Nicole deFrietas: “Would you consider working with other developers?”
A: Rose: “Why would you want other developers when you have me? (laughter) We get totally involved in the community. We see the waterfront and downtown as a complete package and would not be interested in one without the other.”
Q: Councilman Cole Hatfield: “Where else have you developed beyond Wooster?”
A: Rose: “We have been working with Medina for 20 years and Orrville for 5 years. Ask the people in those communities about me, not just me.”
Q: County Commissioner Jim Sass: “How many jobs will be created--permanent, part-time, construction?”
A: Rose: “In Wooster over 150 jobs have been added over the past 10 years. $20 million has been invested on our part.”
Q: Will you be using local or out-of-town labor?
A: Rose: “We try to use local contractors and craftsmen wherever we go. What I feel good about is how many local people worked on these jobs.”
Craig Trick of Port Clinton, who has been instrumental in bringing Rose together with the City, commented that, “I have been following Mike for two years and talked to the communities he has worked with. They have nothing but great things to say about Mike and what he has done for their downtowns.”
Linda Hartlaub concluded the meeting by encouraging the community to talk with their council member and let them know any comments or questions. Mayor Leone echoed Hartlaub’s comments, saying, “It takes a community to bring it together.”
For Port Clinton Council members’ phone numbers and emails, check www.portclinton.com or call 419-734-5522.