Thursday, June 6, 2013

BREAKING: Cleveland State Park morphs into a Cleveland Metroparks' responsibilty

With three strokes of the same pen today the 455-acre Cleveland Lakefront State Park ceased to exist.

Along with it dissolved a 35-year management agreement between the city of Cleveland and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

In the place of the state park arises a six-unit complex, still owned by Cleveland but now managed and administered by Cleveland Metroparks, Ohio's largest county-run parks system.

In a largely symbolic exchange this afternoon at the Euclid Beach component of the former state park/new metroparks' holding, an agreement for the hand-over was penned by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, and Cleveland Metroparks' CEO Brian Zimmerman.

The new 99-year management agreement now wipes clean the 35-year-old slate originally signed by Cleveland and the ODNR.

Stoked over the exchange was Kasich who was the first of the three officials to sign the enabling agreements.
“It's done,” Kasich said, handing the pen over to Jackson.

That “done” also includes Ohio giving Cleveland Metroparks a check for $14 million, the amount agreed upon earlier this year by the Ohio General Assembly as part of the three-way deal.

“This is a growing reflection of the increasing strength of the city of Cleveland,” Kasich said.

Kacish said as well that it was time to finally return the units back over to Cleveland, which then just as happily passed the management of the properties on to Cleveland Metroparks.

“There was a lot that happened in a very short period of time,” Jackson said. “It put a lot (of pressure) on the bureaucracy in Columbus and here, but we worked around the obstacles.”

Such effort was sorely needed because Cleveland at least began to see management and upkeep of the now-former Lakefront State Park sputter and stall, said Michael D. Polensek, Cleveland Councilman for Ward 11 and of the city's most influential elected leaders.

“I'm elated, and I've been looking forward to this day for a long time,” Polensek said. “The park had begun to deteriorate over the past 10 years, and we just didn't see the state's commitment to the lakefront.”

Still, said Polensek, he was pleased how Kasich and ODNR director James Zehringer “came to the conclusion that now was time” to move forward with the exchange.

Zimmerman and his assembled staff expressed no qualms about the agency's ability to manage the park, either in its six parcels or as a whole.

And while Ohio's Natural Resources Department will save at least $2 million annually by giving up what was the six-unit state park, such expenses were never a deterrent in accepting the three-way accord, said Cleveland Metroparks officials.

Zimmerman said also his staff is already working on the nuts and bolts of managing the units, including ascertaining the expenses required to assemble those components which are being ballparked at $2 million to $3 million annually.

“The addition of these six properties to the 'Emerald Necklace' is an integral part of our strategic plan as we move forward toward our goal of playing a key role in the transformation of Cleveland's lakefront,” Zimmerman said.

As for the specifics, those almost-too-numerous details will fall to Cleveland Metroparks' staff of planners, rangers, maintenance workers and all of the agency's other cooks and bottle washers.

Joseph V. Roszak, the parks system's chief operating officer, said for starters the three western most units – Edgewater Park, East 55th Street Marina Complex, and East 72nd Street Boat Launch Complex will become a new cohesively managed “Lakefront Reservation.”

Meanwhile, the other three components consisting of Euclid Beach Park, Villa Angela Park, and Wildwood Marina Complex will come under the header of the current Euclid Creek Reservation.

That said, each of the six sites will keep their well-known namesakes, added Roszak.

“They will retain their identity,” Roszak said.

And importantly for boaters and anglers the use of the boat ramps at such sites as East 72nd Street, Gordan Park and Wildwood will continue at no cost, no launch fee, Roszak said.

Likewise, says Roszak, the parks system has already met with the former state parks' private headboat-bait-snack concessionaires to let them know their contracts are still good and will be honored.

Ditto, says, Roszak as well, for the boat owners who rent slips at units such as those associated with the East 55th Street Marina.

“You'd be hard-pressed to find any negative comments,” Roszak said of the public's reaction to Cleveland Metroparks' management takeover plans.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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