Happy trails: Euclid finally ready to break ground on game-changing waterfront trail

For Euclid residents, Lake Erie has always been something of a shimmering mirage: a beautiful resource always within sight, but perpetually just out of reach. After all, Euclid—one of six lakefront communities in Cuyahoga County—has four miles of shoreline, but 94 percent of that number is privately held by homeowners.

However, the lakefront’s elusive status is about to change after the Euclid City Council’s August 6 vote to move forward with Phase II of its Waterfront Improvement Plan. The now-passed proposal will further the creation of a ¾-mile stretch of shoreline restoration and recreation trail, which will be ADA accessible for wheelchairs, strollers, and bikes.

The council’s 5-2 vote came at the culmination of a highly charged meeting where enthusiasm for lake access was met with vocal concern about allocating resources for this project in the face of the city’s other pressing needs (such as improved safety and infrastructure).

The history of Euclid trying to solve the problem of accessing Lake Erie has become the stuff of local legend, with conversations going back as far as most can remember.

“You can look at records from at least the past 50 years and find references to lakefront development,” says Councilman Daryl Langman, one of the five “yes” votes. “The problem was, year after year, those plans never went anywhere.”

View of the proposed Euclid waterfront trail

Those decades of unfulfilled campaigns changed significantly in 2009 when city officials and local residents worked together to adopt a $30M master plan. 2013 marked the completion of Phase 1 with the opening of Sims Park Fishing Pier and Trail, the replacement of an old, rusted structure and the installation of a new breakwater. Although the new Joseph Ferrell Memorial Fishing Pier saw an increase in people accessing that parcel and various programming opportunities drawing in visitors, Phase 1 did not open up any linear footage of access to the lake.

“The pier clearly displayed our ability to be committed to the overall plan,” says Allison Lukacsy-Love, Community Projects Manager for the City of Euclid. “The next step was to march forward into the next phase in a bold way that is not often seen in other communities.”

That unique approach was rooted in a cost-sharing partnership between the city and the lakefront landowners. Under the plan, those owning lakefront property would receive a stabilization of the eroding shoreline and increased property values due to economic development of the area. In exchange for the landowners’ financial support, the city would then be able to significantly open up lake access, build nearly 3,000 feet of lakefront trail, and even advance environmental protection via the cleaning of stormwater and the removal of approximately 40,000 tons of debris littering the nearshore area.

Additional projected benefits of Phase II include creation of at least 25 direct permanent jobs and the connection of the area to the regional open parks networks, including Metroparks’ “Emerald Necklace” initiative.

Euclid Mayor Kirsten Holzheimer Gail“A community that is investing in itself, using its assets, and offering something that other communities don’t is a place that is thriving,” says Euclid Mayor Kirsten Holzheimer Gail, who herself was raised in a Euclid house with access to Lake Erie. “We’re really hoping this public-private partnership becomes an example project for other lakefront communities.”

The hitch in the plan and the source of conflict at last week’s City Council meeting arose where conflict can usually be found in these types of projects: overall cost and timing. Residents flatly voiced their concerns that now is not the time for the city to borrow money when there is a perceived shortage of funds to provide basic services like an appropriately staffed police department, litter removal, and the desperately needed paving of Euclid city streets.

Although nearly all residents prefaced their comments by recognizing the desire to provide more lakefront access, many nonetheless followed this opening by decrying what they perceived as Euclid’s misplaced priorities of trails over infrastructure. This stance was reflected in the two “no” votes on the council: Ward #1 Councilwoman Stephana Caviness and Ward #8 Councilwoman Laura Gorshe.

“We haven’t been able to pave our streets right now and are for a street levy to pave the streets,” says Caviness. “As much as we might want it, right now, financially, the timing is off for the lakefront trail.”

Gorshe echoed these concerns while still providing an intro with the familiar praise for the idea behind the Lake Erie access.

“This project is worthwhile and exciting,” begins Gorshe. “However, without the money in the bank, it is not fiscally responsible to move forward right now, especially with the current state of Euclid’s finances.”

City officials cited some misunderstandings of funding sources as a barrier to the public’s full embrace of the project. At the core of Euclid’s resources for the Waterfront Improvement Plan is TIF monies: tax increment financing that provides public entities the ability to reallocate property taxes to encourage redevelopment in the city. Primary funding sources include the Cuyahoga County Casino Revenue Fund; multiple programs through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources; grants from organizations such as the Great Lakes Commission and Ohio EPA; private donations; and FEMA funds devoted exclusively to erosion mitigation.

“It’s so important that people understand that we are not withdrawing money from Euclid’s general fund,” says Mayor Holzheimer Gail. “We are not cutting other services and we are not taking money away from any programs to fund this project."

Sims Park Pier where the trail will begin

The two votes of fiscal restraint and caution were outnumbered by their peers, with Council President Charlene Mancuso abstaining due to her association with current lakefront property. (Councilman Brian Moore also did not vote due to being out of the country, but sent a note of support that was read by Holzheimer Gail at the meeting.)

The affirmative vote gave Euclid city officials the authorization to enter into a contract with Mark Haynes Construction Inc., a Norwalk, OH-based company who provided the lowest bid on the project. The goal is to formally enter into the contract on Wednesday, September 5, and break ground on the trail on September Thursday, September 6. Conservative estimates for the completion of Phase 2 have the project completed around October 2019.

Though the lion’s share of the focus for the next year-and-a-half will be squarely on the shoreline restoration and recreation trails, the completion of Phase II will bring with it the possibility of the much larger initiative of Phase III: a Euclid marina. As property values are expected to increase and lake front properties are developed, some citizens have their eye on leveraging the economic development into a completely revamped lakefront region.

“The dream and plan is that if you build a marina, then the 1960s vintage apartment towers would be converted into upscale condos and rentals,” says Councilman Langman. “The current amenities are obsolete but a real marina and boardwalk would be a boost for everyone.”

But before Phase III can come to pass, Phase II needs to be completed and residents’ concerns need to be addressed. Moving forward, Euclid city officials have expressed their commitment to providing as much detail as possible to extol this significant advance in the city’s lake access.

“Euclid is a city with challenges,” says Mayor Holzheimer Gail. “We can’t just focus on all things immediate but instead have to invest in long-term growth and stability that puts Euclid on a different trajectory. Our belief is connecting Euclid more accessibly to Lake Erie does just that.”