With redevelopment on the horizon for the 650 acres of former Geauga Lake Park / Wildwater Kingdom / Sea World land owned by Cedar Fair of Sandusky, many people have taken to social media to express their opinions as to what they'd like to see on the Aurora and Bainbridge Township property.
Currently, proposals are on the table for a Meijer superstore in the old Geauga Lake main parking lot and a Liberty Ford dealership at Route 43 and Squires Road.
On the Facebook page www.facebook.com/geauga.lake, many people around the region have said they would like to at least some of the land devoted to relaxation, entertainment and "family fun." Several of them say they don't want to see more big box stores and houses built there.
I sat down last week and read through dozens of posts on the Facebook page. Some of the proposals bordered on the outrageous, some have merit and many are "very interesting," as Artie Johnson used to say on the late 1960s-early 1970s TV show "Laugh-In."
Some of the posters would like to see a large new amusement park built on the land. Let's face it -- that possibility is out of the question and highly unrealistic. Some posters say Cedar Fair would not sell the land if it knew a competing park could be located there.
Other posters are thinking in smaller terms, and their ideas could become reality. Although some are OK with the property being used for some businesses and housing, they also believe portions of it could be used to create a "family destination" which would gain support from area residents as well as those who live several miles away.
Some of the posters are encouraging Aurora and Bainbridge officials to buy the acreage and either use it for passive recreation or rebuild an amusement park.
Although Aurora has done a great job of preserving hundreds of acres and creating trails and recreation facilities, buying such a large parcel would be highly unlikely. And buying it with the intention of creating a new amusement park is just plain silly. Would taxpayers really support such an idea?
Some posters have suggested approaching the owners of other amusement parks / entertainment facilities to see if they'd be interested in building a park. In an era when established parks are closing and none are opening, that possibility is a bit far-fetched.
But the suggestions that some type of small park or recreation facilities be considered for a portion of the land are legitimate -- something that would attract visitors, but not cost Aurora and Bainbridge residents -- or private enterprises -- a lot of money.
For example, one poster suggests a family center with shopping, restaurants, minature golf and "old school" rides such as bumper cars and a small coaster. "Make it a family place of fun. Have a large screen for a movie night, swimming, paddle boats, live entertainment," the woman writes.
"And winter events with snowman competitions, sculptures, ice skating, anything. Make it year round for every season and holiday."
Another person suggests turning part of the property into something like Geneva on the Lake, making good use of the lake. "No one wants big box stores that will close in a few years," he said. "We want a park back in some form."
Another suggestion is utilizing the lake for a beach and picnic / playground / boardwalk place for families. "The biggest expense seems to be cleaning up the place, and then the expense to maintain would be affordable," the poster said. "Charge a small amount for families to come or sell a pass to help with the cost."
Another person suggests a hotel or resort could be built on the land, with a park operating year-round with "one-of-a-kind" attractions.
"Don't do a full-blown amusement park; make it a good summer destination for locals, kind of like Geneva on the Lake," a poster said. "Throw in some putt-putt, some good grille food, an arcade and maybe a Ferris wheel and a couple of small attractions. Make a couple playgrounds for small children, picnic areas, pavilions and perhaps a spray park."
In my hometown of New Philadelphia, Tuscora Park has existed for more than 100 years. It has a swimming pool, small lake, carousel, Ferris wheel, kiddie rides, picnic shelters, an enclosed pavilion, tennis and basketball courts and a small amphitheater for summer concerts.
It attracts people from all over Tuscarawas County, as well as Carroll, Holmes and Stark counties. Quite a few of the visitors come from the Canton area.
Someone -- a developer or the communities of Aurora and Bainbridge -- could try to build a small park like that, but it would take a major investment. If tax dollars are needed, would residents be willing to contribute them? It could be a risk to try.
One poster suggests he'd like to see the "Shark Tank" TV show team involved in the project "given their success, connections, net worth, brains, etc." Highly unlikely, but an interesting thought nonetheless.
One man summed up the situation succinctly. "Nothing will ever happen to this site unless there is a business case for it," he said. "People need to understand that nostalgia and memories alone will not influence an investor to drop millions on bringing the place back.
"The fate of Geauga Lake still lies at the feet of Cedar Fair because until the land is freed up, there is little incentive for any business to spend time looking at the site as a development opportunity. The land has to find a new owner."
Like everyone who ever set foot on Geauga Lake Park, Sea World or Wildwater Kingdom, I have fond memories of them. I was saddened to see them close, and sad to see the Big Dipper roller coaster smashed to pieces last November.
Likewise, I have fond memories of my childhood visits to Meyer's Lake Park in Canton, Chippewa Lake Park in Medina County and Conneaut Lake Park across the state line in Pennsylvania. Two of those are gone, and Conneaut Lake is a shadow of its former self and is holding on by a thread. Many other amusement parks have bitten the dust, too.
There are still amusement parks to visit -- Cedar Point, Kenneywood, Kings Island and Waldameer -- you just have to drive a little further to get there.
As for redevelopment of Geauga Lake Park, all we can do as area residents is wait and see what happens. It may take years -- indeed some of us may not see it in our lifetimes -- but some day something will stand on that now vacant and rundown acreage.
Let's hope it's something Aurora and Bainbridge can be proud of, and that will serve the communities in the best way possible.
Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189