LORAIN – The big hunk of steel fell with a thud. (Watch here.)
A ton of steel, which had been standing erect for more than 90 years and used to transmit electrical power to various parts of the city, did that when it was demolished.
Lorain officials are hoping the demolition will create an even larger rumble – the rumble of development – once all of the towers, 24 in all, are removed through the next year, opening up the city’s river and lake front.
Tuesday’s event – remarks from city leaders followed by Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer manning the bulldozer that toppled the tower – was something many in the room said was years in the making. The catalytic moment came two years ago with the announcement by Republic Steel that it was planning to add an $85 million electric arc furnace to its East 28th Street plant.
That one decision – although massive in terms of its economic impact of 450 new jobs – caused a ripple effect that led to First Energy building a new substation and deciding the old substation and 24 transmission towers it fed were no longer needed.
Ideas for redeveloping the lake and river fronts were reignited and once again many in the city start to dream of what life could be like in Lorain once its crown jewel – the beautiful Lake Erie coast – is allowed to shine.
Ritenauer said Lorain has the potential for so much more. His first days in office he vividly remembers carting three black trash bags full of studies and assessment from one office to another, signifying years of city leaders determined to change Lorain’s fortune.
“The waterfront has always had a lot of potential,” he said. “But potential that remains potential is not progress. Today, we are reversing that.”
One of those studies laid out a stark reality for Lorain.
Before development would come to the city’s waterfront, Lorain had to look hard at its infrastructure, blighted neighborhoods and other obstacles standing in the way of progress. Some would say the city is just now addressing those problems head-on without the aid of rose-colored glasses.
The city is investing $50 million in road and water projects and has demolished more homes this year than in the several previous years combined.
Now, First Energy is joining the revitalization efforts by ridding the city of the transmission towers that have been called eyesores and impediments of progress.
“Considering what we have been through in this economy, getting the news we did from Republic was a very important step for this community,” said Randy Frame, president of Ohio Edison. “But the benefit can’t stop at 450 new jobs because we owe it to this waterfront to see what can be developed and shaped in the future.”
But development doesn’t just occur, said Councilman Frank DeTillio, D-8th Ward, and president of the Lorain County Chamber of Commerce. It has to be coaxed. Tuesday was what he called a nudge in the right direction.
“Development needs some kind of platform to stand on,” he said.
What the future will look like in Lorain is still unknown. But Lorain has already give itself more than seven million reasons to make sure something spectacular comes its way.
City leaders already voted to borrow $7.1 million to be paid to First Energy for the 1.73 miles of property it owns on and around the Edgewater Substation at 200 Oberlin Ave – the same substation that is in the midst of being razed.
“I’ve lived in Lorain my entire life so I know what it’s like to always look for hope, look for a dream all the while hearing people say why would you stay in Lorain,” said Council President Joel Arredondo. “But it’s just the right time.”