November 23, 2014

Elyria
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Cascade Park proposal presented

ELYRIA — Members of the Elyria Parks and Recreation Board and other city officials appeared to be in agreement Tuesday that entering a partnership with the Lorain County Metro Parks will be a good thing for Elyria and Cascade Park.

But the devil is in the details, so the volunteer board went through the proposed contract and memorandum of understanding with a fine-tooth comb. The board’s overriding concern? That the city was giving up control of one of its most noted landmarks.

But Mayor Holly Brinda, who worked with Metro Parks officials to craft the contract, asked board members to have a little faith.

“I know this is very much a community park, but we have to have faith this will be a good thing,” she said. “A lot of work went into this, and I think the agreement represents the very essence of what Elyria wanted in a partnership.”

Parks and Recreation Director Frank Gustoff said the emotion is tied to the history of the park.

“This will be their most historic park restoration project to date,” he said. “I believe all the other parks in their possession came into existence after Cascade Park, so this is a big deal.”

Still, Gustoff said he can find the silver lining in the deal that extends beyond Cascade Park.

“Moving forward, I think the city’s Parks and Recreation Board will sort of step away from Cascade Park,” he said. “We have a lot of things we will still have to do in the community, including fundraising for other parks in the city. We have to say they have the expertise and we can devote our attention to other parks in the city.”

For example, Gustoff said he wants to see a new swimming pool in the city, possibly on the south side, where major repairs forced the pool at South Park to close years ago. It was just an idea he threw out, but one that showed how he is thinking of the future of other parks in the city.

While the group reviewed the various provisions, Brinda emphasized one benefit of the agreement.

“Remember, they are going to be the ones to make a lot of these decisions,” she said with a joke. “We are not going to be agonizing over every RFP (requests for proposals).”

It was just what the group needed to remind them why talks of a partnership started in the first place.

“You’re right. I feel good about it. Job well done,” board chairman Sam Battle said to Brinda.

If a deal is made, which seems inevitable, city officials will sign off on a formal contract as well a memorandum of understanding that clarifies the intentions of the city and the park district.

While the contract spells out the lead role the Metro Parks will have, the second document ensures Elyria has a say in the development of the master plan, a budget and applying for grants.

Cascade Park is unique because several community support groups are dedicated to preserving the park and provide funding for pet projects. The memorandum protects those groups and the funds that flow into the park from them. Particularly, all money for the park received through the Ely Wagner Trust will remain under city control.

While work on the park will be completed in two phases, the memorandum stipulates Elyria will immediately make improvements including work on the trail bridge, a sewer installation project and repair work to the deck platform behind the Elyria police station. The park district will look at four key areas for its phase one projects — 19 Acres, Elywood Park, the Cascade Park picnic area and the trails between the falls.

The contract also spells out a 50-year agreement between the entities as well as who will be responsible for certain repairs, projects and responsibilities going forward.

However, what the agreement does not do is absolve the city from spending money in Cascade Park. Brinda said she hopes residents understand that there will always be costs associated with the park.

Under the proposal, the city would provide trash collection, water, sewage and electricity to the park, waive all building and permit fees associated with the park, provide law enforcement services and complete various improvement projects. The city would also aid in fundraising for park improvements.

“We’re not doing this for the savings,” said parks board member Kurt Koepf. “We are doing this for the improvements that could come from having someone devoted to restoring passive parks to beauty. We want be to be able to just have people in Elyria be able to enjoy this park — a better park that’s more developed.”

Metro Parks Director Jim Ziemnik said he would need roughly an additional week to present the same documents to the park district’s board for approval.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.