Industrial Commercial Properties buys Geauga Lake land
However, it’s also time to say hello to the Geauga Lake District. That’s the new name for 377 acres in Bainbridge Township that circle the namesake inland lake, and the name that the property’s new owner, an affiliate of Industrial Commercial Properties (ICP) of Solon, will use for it. ICP plans to play the role of master developer of the site, including installing elements that recall the original amusement park dating from 1887.
The sale for an undisclosed amount on Friday, Oct. 30, to ICP ends the era of Sandusky-based Cedar Fair LP‘s ownership of the last of the vast site, which includes the former Sea World property. It follows Cedar Fair’s sale of another whale of a site carved from the former amusement park in Aurora to PulteGroup of Atlanta.
How did Austin Semarjian interest his father in undertaking a variation from its core business and such a leviathan in terms of property development?
“Once we found some prospective users, he was interested,” the younger Semarjian said. “He’s a deal junkie.”
The site will include additional retail locations, a proposed mixed-use restaurant and entertainment district, and a residential office district near the lake, as well as multifamily residential and institutional sites.
Although ICP’s name is synonymous with industrial real estate projects, its 140-property portfolio in Ohio and Michigan also includes office and commercial uses that total 42 million square feet. There will be no industrial property at Geauga Lake.
“It’s too far from the highway” to be competitive for industrial use, Chris Semarjian said. He noted the company has retail properties in its holdings, as well as ICP staffers, from both the former Forest City Realty Trust Inc. and SITE Centers, which have land development and retail expertise.
Moreover, he said ICP has vast experience with land from buying former stores, offices and massive industrial buildings and converting them to new use.
However, ICP will not plan to do every project at the Geauga Lake District alone.
For example, the firm is entertaining offers from developers of multifamily properties to develop the 300-some apartments that would go on multifamily-zoned parcels. And Menards may not be alone among retailers to build and own their own structures on the site. Moreover, ICP may entertain joint ventures, particularly in segments such as office or even office-residential use.
“We have asked everyone we work with to focus on architecture,” Chris Semarjian said. “Its not about selling land. I’d rather leave a little room on the negotiating table for architecture. We have structured this so we will be able to maintain design control.”
One reason for exerting such design control is that it was necessary to do so to obtain support from Bainbridge Township trustees for ICP’s plans, particularly the desire to pay homage to the old landmark with elements of the new project. To that end, the proposed street that will provide access to sites on the lake’s west side will be called Geauga Lake Boulevard.
An element of public art recalling the Big Dipper, a famous wooden roller coaster at Geauga Lake Park, is included in designs for the entrance of the new development. Some large land developments don’t have names, but this one will have signage for itself as the Geauga Lake District.
Some old roller coaster cars also may find their way to be displayed in the district, according to Chris Salata, ICP’s chief operating officer.
“A lot of us grew up in Northeast Ohio and remember visiting this park while we were growing up,” Salata said. “It was very important to see that history remembered. That nostalgia is important to public officials and the public. We’ll also have a significant amount of green space and connectivity (such as conservation areas and walking trails) to give it connectivity and create a lifestyle environment.”
For Jeff Markley, a landscape architect and longtime Bainbridge Township trustee, ICP’s willingness to accept that vision was not negotiable, a sentiment shared by the other trustees. The other proviso is that all of the lakefront surrounding the 50-acre body of water has to remain available for public use, which ICP agreed to do.
Bainbridge also had to work around the limitations of Ohio law because it’s a township, Markley said. Bainbridge Township could not authorize a development agreement such as cities often do. The solution: a Geauga County lawsuit so the judge could tell the parties to negotiate a settlement or the court would do it. The court settlement was timed to go into effect simultaneously with the closing of the property sale.
ICP publicly set the basis for that agreement — and the court case — with the township zoning board’s rejection of an initial proposal last January.
However, a more difficult arrangement had to be engineered to ensure the delivery of sewer and water lines to the site from Aurora. The lack of utilities was a factor in the demise of a prior plan for big retailer Meier to take a 50-acre chunk of the township land. Trustees had fruitlessly explored multiple options for utilities. The only solution: a Joint Economic Development District (JEDD) under state law, which eluded the city and township since 2013.
Tony Visconsi, a managing director who headed a Hanna Commercial team handling the offering for Cedar Fair since 2017, said the need for the JEDD, along with costs for demolishing or redeveloping structures left over from the park, torpedoed about 50 prospects from pursuing the township land.
“ICP was familiar with JEDDs,” Visconsi said in an interview. “It wasn’t easy getting the (township and city) together, especially with money involved. The key was the ability of ICP to broker a deal between Aurora and Bainbridge to secure utilities. ICP did a masterful job helping the parties come together.”
The JEDD, adopted in September, became effective just prior to the property sale. In addition to Aurora receiving fees for providing utilities, the JEDD divides proceeds from the 2% municipal income tax levied on occupants of the site; 25% goes to both the city and township, 25% to Aurora utility department for operations, and 25% to the JEDD needs of the district.
“I’m excited and optimistic for it all to begin,” Markley said. “We would not let the lake be privatized. I’m hoping a future phase will include a museum to house artifacts from the site collecting dust in people’s basements.”
Anne Womer Benjamin, Aurora’s mayor, said in a phone interview, “I’m pleased there is an interested partner willing to undertake that redevelopment. I think it will be beneficial to Bainbridge and Aurora and all of Northeast Ohio for the site to be productive once more.”
Semarjian said that in addition to the initial Menards store, prospects from apartment developers to restaurateurs are in talks for sites.