Renaissance Park at Geauga Lake

Pulte breaks ground for new mixed-use development

Bob Gaetjens
Record-Courier
Aurora Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin said the groundbreaking at Geauga Lake Thursday is a significant milestone in seven years of preparation for the redevelopment of the former site of Sea World and Geauga Lake.

Work has begun in earnest in a historic new development in Aurora — Pulte's Renaissance Park at Geauga Lake.

About 10 representatives from the city of Aurora and Pulte Homes gathered Thursday for a groundbreaking ceremony for the development company's mixed-use development totaling 308 residential units, about 20 acres of commercial and retail area and 98 acres of park land.

Aurora Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin said the groundbreaking marked the conclusion of years of work trying to attract a new developer for a portion of what used to be Sea World's parking area on Squires Road just east of Route 43.

"This is something that essentially I’ve been working on since the very beginning of my tenure as mayor," she told the gathering Thursday. "It was almost seven years ago that we embarked with council on changing the zoning for this area to mixed use."

The development is the first new construction in what used to be the former Geauga Lake and Sea World properties, which was previously owned by Cedar Fair, the company which operated Geauga Lake at the end of its run.

While the groundbreaking Thursday was just for the first of four phases of development including the 98 acres of parkland winding through the eastern portion of the development, Pulte director of planning Jim O'Connor said the company hopes to offer the first homes for sale next March.

"You'll see houses going vertical sometime in November," he said. "We anticipate being fully built out in six years. In spring of next year is when we'll start on the east side, and that'll be phase two."

The 77-acre first phase of development, located in the northwest corner of the new development, is accessible off Squires Road just east of Liberty Ford, according to plans.

The entire phase is residential and includes 119 townhomes, which will wrap around what will later become one of two commercial and retail areas, situated on either side of Liberty Ford. The remainder of the first phase will be 64 single-family lots. That area will wrap around the townhomes, which Womer Benjamin said will buffer the single family homes from the commercial area.

"There are four groups of townhomes in different styles," she said. "The other group of homes on the west side are single-lot homes, but they're smaller; they're going to have an average of 40 feet between the homes."

O'Connor said the eastern residential area will comprise ranch homes aimed at empty nesters and retirees. That area would be located to the east of the Norfolk and Southern Railway easement. To the north is an old quarry, which provides scenery for the trails which will snake their way around the park land.

City council member Kathi Grandillo, who also chairs the Aurora Planning Commission, said she believes the development could bring another 600 to 1,000 people to the city of Aurora.

She said the planning process with Pulte was very collaborative in the newly created mixed-use area.

"They took us on a tour," she said. "We met by the campground, and they had Gators. They took us around and showed us what their vision was. That was really helpful."

O'Connor said the vision is to create a development appealing to all age groups, young professionals buying townhomes, families in the single-family homes and retirees buying in the eastern portion of the development with ranch houses and maintenance-free living provided via a homeowners association.

One of the reasons for the balanced approach came out of questions about the impact a larger development of single-family homes would have on the school district, he explained.

"That was obviously a concern for everybody initially," he said. "I think we spent a tremendous amount of time on that in the planning stages."

Womer Benjamin said it's difficult at this stage in development to know how many school children will move into the area.

"I think the impact is expected to be limited, but you never know until the units are sold," she said.

Of the 308 residential units, Womer Benjamin said 125 will be ranch homes aimed at retirees.

The development is not the last in Aurora, she added. Another residential development is proposed on Aurora Lake Road, and another one was proposed for the south end of Route 43 in town.

"It's only going to be six homes now as opposed to 50-plus," she said of the Route 43 plan. "We have pushed back on these projects to the extent that we can have them more in conformance with the rest of Aurora and Aurora's standards."

Pulte vice president of land Brad Piroli said it's very important to start with residential rather than commercial and retail in a mixed-use development like this.

"Residential development leads to future commercial development," he explained. "It's about establishing rooftops and density to feed businesses."

He said the Geauga Lake property owned by Cedar Fair gained a reputation among developers as being difficult to develop.

"There are lots of histories and stories and rumors about why it can't be done here," he said, explaining existing above and below ground infrastructure can present challenges.

But when Cedar Fair agreed in December 2018 to consider splitting the property, Piroli said things started to pick up steam in their talks.

"Over a four-week period, we got a purchase agreement that included this area," he said. "We limited the demolition to a parking lot and an old camp site."

Reporter Bob Gaetjens can be reached at 330-541-9440, bgaetjens@recordpub.com and @bobgaetjens_rc.

Pulte Director of Planning Jim O'Connor speaks during the groundbreaking for the company's first phase of a mixed-use development at Geauga Lake in Aurora.