Main Street Beach & Park revitalization project preserves lakefront access for generations

What is it: The Main Street Beach & Park revitalization will continue to be an ongoing project, offering residents and visitors enhanced access to the beautiful Lake Erie waterfront. The project was born out of an opportunity to preserve valuable lakefront property as public access and protect it from potential condo developers. Under the leadership of Mayor Jim Forthofer, the City of Vermilion, in partnership with the Western Reserve Land Conservancy and dedicated volunteers, raised an impressive $1.6 million through grants and personal donations to purchase the property adjacent to the existing city lakefront park.

"Our goal in raising funds was to keep lakefront access for the average resident, not just developers,” says Mayor Forthofer. “With only 17% of waterfront property in Ohio available for public access, it was vital to secure this land for the community's benefit."

History of the project: The project's journey began in 2013 when the Inland Seas Museum offered its property for sale. Rather than allowing it to be taken over by condo developers, the city administration saw the potential to preserve it for public use. Subsequently, the decision was made to combine the purchased property with the existing city park, creating the Main Street Beach & Park.

Initially, the project sought to restore the old Wakefield Mansion that was part of the Inland Seas Museum property. However, after an architectural firm estimated restoration costs at almost $4 million and the ongoing expenses for maintenance, the mayor made the tough decision to demolish the building in 2021.

What is included in the project: The revitalization of the western portion of Main Street Beach & Park includes a graded slope leading down to the lighthouse and lakefront, winding concrete trails, a new $10,000 flagpole donated by the VFW, a sprinkler system, and a parking lot. One notable addition is the Comfort Station on the east side of the park, featuring restrooms, changing rooms, showers, and a space for sales of pre-packaged foods, beach item rentals, and tourist directions. The Comfort Station also marks the first-ever permanent restrooms at the park.

Project timeline: The Edge Group, responsible for designing the new lakefront property, estimates that the total cost of the project will be $2.3 million. Future plans include extending the trails along the beach to the Vermilion River and Erie County MetroPark's property, along with additional parking in front of the Comfort Station. Estimated completion for this phase is set for 2024, with potential minor additions in 2025, in collaboration with the Erie County Metro Park.

Forthofer emphasized that the development of Main Street Beach & Park will be carried out cautiously, with no end in sight for future additions, where appropriate.  

"My intention is to initially under build it,” he says. “The view from the old mansion location is awesome. We don't want to clutter it up with buildings or other visual distractions. There is little we could do to improve on nature's beauty. If in the future the addition of recreational features can blend in with the lakefront park, that's fine."

Why is the project important: The completed Main Street Beach & Park is expected to draw more visitors to the area and benefit local merchants. Moreover, it ensures access to this natural treasure for current and future generations of Vermilion residents and visitors, as Forthofer looks to instill a sense of conscientiousness in protecting this valuable asset.

With this successful revitalization project, the Main Street Beach & Park stands as a testament to the determination and collaboration of the city, Western Reserve Land Conservancy, volunteers, and the mayor's vision to preserve public access to Lake Erie's stunning waterfront.

Parks and Recreation Supervisor Marc Weisenberger says the project’s goal is to ensure free public access to Vermilion’s most symbolic property, as well as the lakeshore-to-river corridor, and provide a focal point of community for future generations. 

"The redevelopment of the previously underutilized waterfront will offer safe access to a comfortable open space to enjoy outdoor recreation and take in scenic views of Lake Erie and the Vermilion River,” Weisenberger says. “All of this will increase Vermilion’s historic nautical character.”