October 25, 2014

Elyria
Partly sunny with showers
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Council members pleased thus far with Cascade Park plan

The Black River runs through a snowy Cascade Park. The Elyria City Council’s Strategic Planning Committee got its first look Tuesday at the proposed joint agreement between the city and the Lorain County Metro Parks for the park district to take over operations of Cascade.

ELYRIA — A year of negotiations seems to have paid off for Mayor Holly Brinda as City Council members lauded the agreement she helped craft with the Lorain County Metro Parks concerning the future of Cascade Park.

For months, officials and attorneys have been working out the finer points of a 50-year agreement that turns the day-to-day operations of the historic park over to the county’s parks district. Council voted in 2012 to form a negotiation committee, but the group as a whole hadn’t voiced an opinion until Tuesday.

The consensus appears to be approval if Tuesday’s meeting of the Council’s Strategic Planning Committee is any indicator.

“This is a win-win situation no matter how you cut it,” said Councilman Larry Tanner, D-1st Ward.

“Residents are going to feel good to know the park is going to come back to like it was many years ago,” added Councilwoman Brenda Kay Davis, D-2nd Ward. Davis was a member of the negotiating committee and said every nuance of the contract was examined.

Tuesday was the first opportunity for Council to look over the agreement, but members will have more time to digest the matter with three formal readings before a passage vote is called on the legislation, authorizing the city to enter into the contract.

After a year of talks, there is no need to rush the final details, Law Director Scott Serazin said.

If the deal is approved, which seems inevitable, there will be a formal contract between the two parties and a memorandum of understanding that will clarify the intentions of the city and the park district so the full sentiment behind the contract is understood for generations to come. 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 and a budget and applying for grants.

Brinda told members that the best part of the contract is the development it could bring to the park.

“It allows us to make improvements to a real gem in the city in difficult economic times,” she said. “It would likely be a revenue neutral proposition for the city, but we’re not doing this to save money. We are doing this to improve the park.”

The contract Council reviewed Tuesday was basically the same as what was made public as a proposal several weeks ago. However, Brinda said the Metro Parks wanted to remove language specifically speaking to how much money the park district would invest and how many employees it will designate as permanent staff.

It was a significant change, but not one Brinda said is alarming to her because there is a mutual understanding that the city and park district will both invest substantially in the park and appropriately staff it.

Parks Director Jim Ziemnik has previously said the county-funded parks district will likely invest upward of $2 million in the park over several years, with a more definite amount to be made public as a master plan is developed.

Council members were most concerned about the language in the contract that spoke to who could back out of the deal. Councilman Garry Gibbs,

R-3rd Ward, was worried about what would happen if the future financial picture changed and the Metro Parks abruptly decided it wanted out.

Brinda offered some reassurance, saying that with a 50-year contract, barring a catastrophe, the partnership would likely continue for generations to come.

Elyria Parks and Recreation Director Frank Gustoff has not spoken about the proposal in recent months as the negotiations were ongoing. But Tuesday he spoke up about his apprehension and excitement for the future of the park.

Gustoff, who has worked for the city’s Parks and Recreation for more than 20 years and helped chart the park’s path for years, said he had mixed feelings.

“When you work your entire career to make a park look beautiful, it’s not easy to just turn it over to someone else,” he said. “But when I step back and remove what I feel in my heart I have to ask myself ,‘Will this help the citizens in Elyria?’ And the answer is yes. That is what means the most for me.”

Still, Councilman Jack Baird, D-at large, called the contract a “common sense agreement.”

“We came up with a reasonable agreement that will work well for the city,” he said.

Under the proposal, the city would provide trash collection, water, sewage and electric services 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.

In exchange, Metro Parks would develop a master plan, handle park and facility improvements, write grant applications for the park and handle park programming.

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