Elyrians need to look no further than Lorain’s Lakeview Park for an example of what the Lorain County Metro Parks can do when it partners with a city to operate a park.
In less than five years, the Metro Parks has resurrected Lakeview Park, renovated the bath house for daily use and restored the rose garden, including the introduction of the Rose Cafe, which is operated daily by DeLuca’s Place in the Park. The Metro Parks took over operations of Lakeview Park in 2006 after Lorain City Council agreed to a 50-year lease and the results speak for themselves.
“It’s a beautiful and safe place to go,” said park lover Kim Aulisio of Elyria. “That’s not to say Cascade Park is not those things, but there is a big difference.”
It was former Lorain Mayor Craig Foltin who asked the Metro Parks system to assume control of Lakeview Park in 2005.
“We did the best we could do, but make no mistake: No one can do what the Metro Parks do. That is their expertise. They have the horticulturists, the expertise and the wherewithal,” Foltin, now the current executive vice president of administration and finance at Cuyahoga Community College, said Wednesday.
Looking back, Foltin said it was the best decision for the park, and he is not surprised to hear Mayor Bill Grace is leaning toward doing the same thing with Cascade Park.
Tuesday night — the same night City Council voted to accept the Cascade Park Redevelopment Plan, which is a 25-year master plan for the park, which was bestowed to Elyria by city founder Heman Ely — Grace spoke candidly about possibly giving Cascade Park to someone else. He reiterated those ideas Wednesday.
“For every person I talk to that says we need to keep the park, there are 10 who encourage me to look to the Metro Parks,” he said. “Cascade Park is just not meeting its potential right now. It’s been slipping since probably the late 1960s, and now we are in a position where we just can’t keep up with what the park needs.”
The Metro Parks is not actively looking to take over the park, and Council has yet to formally ask the parks system to take over Cascade Park.
But that doesn’t mean some kind of Metro Parks involvement is not on the minds of many residents.
“Just think about how long the bathrooms have been out of order or the water fountain broken. It comes a time when we can’t be afraid to swallow our pride and let someone else do it,” said Aulisio, 40.
Walking through Cascade Park on Wednesday night with a water bottle and large walking stick, 61-year-old Harold Moore said he has seen fights and vandalism in Cascade.
“The Metro Parks are kept up and are very nice,” he said. “Cascade is going down.”
Metro Parks Director Dan Martin said a lot of factors must be considered before any partnership agreement can be forged. He said he knows the questions he is going to be asked by the Metro Parks board before he even opens his mouth with the idea.
“We have done partnerships with lots of other communities and would go through the same review process in looking at Cascade Park,” he said.
Martin said city elected officials must be on board, the public must be in favor of the partnership and a community leader must be present in Elyria to rally community support to make the partnership work.
“It takes a strong community leader to make such a partnership possible,” Martin said. “The only way you are going to fix Cascade Park is a partnership.”
The Metro Parks pumped $3.5 million into improving Lakeview Park and $1.9 million of that money came from the community through a fundraising campaign spearheaded by business owner Bob Campana.
Next, Martin said crafting a doable plan for Cascade Park is important.
“Every project we do is something we know we can accomplish with community support and a reasonable amount of money,” he said. “I think what the Metro Parks is known for is saying what they are going to do and then doing it.”
The Cascade Park Redevelopment Plan does not include any mention of the city not operating Cascade Park, but it does spell out how changing the image and look of Cascade Park and the surrounding area will not be cheap or easy. Costs estimates range from $4.45 million to $35.81 million over 20 to 30 years.
“We have meager means to act on this plan right now,” Grace said.
Martin said it would be premature for him to comment on how much it would take to turn Cascade Park around.
“It’s a spectacular place,” he said of the park. “But do we fix it or does someone else fix it? I can’t answer that question. I can say it would be a challenging project. I would be glad to listen to what the public has to say.”
To that end, Grace said he is planning to hold at least two meetings this summer to gauge public opinion. The meetings would be followed up with a phone survey.
“We want the community to weigh in on this,” he said. “And, I think by those talks taking place now it would take away from the political partisanship that could take place with the next administration. I am obviously not doing this for any political motive. I just know this park is deteriorating by the month.”
Foltin said a Lorain resident put the bug in his ear to contract with the Metro Parks.
“We were in the process of trying to raise money to renovate the rose garden and realized that even if we raised the money to restore it, what it took to maintain the park would be more than the city could ever afford,” he said. “I think hindsight shows it was the right decision for the city and the park.”
Foltin said the initial idea was met with a lot of backlash. But in the end, he thinks a good agreement was worked out with the Metro Parks.
“Giving away the jewel of the city is not necessarily a popular decision,” he said.
Under the contract between Lorain and the Metro Parks, Lorain has the opportunity to weigh in on the master plan, though the parks system has the final say. The Metro Parks is in total control of Lakeview Park including capital improvements, employment, maintenance of all buildings and grounds, and development of an overall master plan.
In addition, Lorain can evaluate the arrangement every 10 years and end it if necessary. However, if Lorain decides the arrangement should be terminated, the contract requires city officials to reimburse the Metro Parks for all money it invested in capital improvements.
“I wouldn’t look for that to happen any time soon,” Foltin said. “Not under the city’s fiscal situation.”
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or email@example.com.