Metroparks buying more Cuyahoga Riverfront land

On Whiskey Island is a 4.5-acre piece of riverfront land, across the Cuyahoga River from Downtown Cleveland. The Cleveland Metroparks is seeking to buy the property just beyond its new Wendy Park Bridge, overhead, to expand its waterfront recreation offerings (Google). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM.

But someone didn’t tell owner Ontario Stone


Adding 4.5 acres of land along the Cuyahoga River is a relatively small contribution to the 1,000 acres the Cleveland Metroparks has acquired in just the past three years. But this latest addition may be one of its most visible and strategic. The site the Metroparks wants is located in Cleveland on Whiskey Island, between the river and the park system’s new Wendy Park Bridge. Interestingly, no deal has been reached with the property’s current owner, Ontario Stone Corp.

The land, used by Ontario Stone for the storage of aggregates, is proposed to become a recreational greenspace and environmental protection site. It is surrounded by a mix of mostly industrial uses that are steadily becoming more recreational, including Wendy Park to the north. It is at the confluence of two bridges — the new Wendy Park Bridge and the old Riverbed Street lift bridge.

That city-owned lift bridge, frequented by trucks and bicycles, crosses the old river channel that meets the Cuyahoga River at the Metroparks’ targeted new property. To the north of it is the busy Norfolk Southern railroad tracks. Until the early 1980s, Baltimore & Ohio Railroad ore trains bisected the Ontario Stone property but those tracks are long gone.

When Ontario Stone and the Cresco real estate brokerage put the land on the market, a rendering of an aspirational high-rise residential building was included in the marketing materials and successfully created quite a stir. But while the site was unlikely to yield a skyscraper, it is on a path to becoming a stopover point along the Cleveland Foundation Centennial Lake Link Trail.

Today, the Metroparks’ board voted to seek a $3 million grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORLP) Program to match $3 million from the Cuyahoga County-based park system. The funding will not only pay for a deed to the property but for appraisal and review-appraisal fees, title, phase one and two environmental assessments plus closing costs.

Location, trail linkages and site context for the Ontario Stone Corp. property that the Cleveland Metroparks is seeking to acquire (Metroparks).

“Based on a verbal assessment from an Ohio Department of Transportation-certified appraiser who is familiar with the property and surrounding comparables, the
approximate appraised value of riverfront parcels in this area is $30 per square foot,” according to a Metroparks summary. “The property is approximately 196,020 square feet which results in a market value of approximately $5,880,600.”

For tax purposes, Cuyahoga County appraised the land and two buildings on the three-parcel property at far less — just $1,090,600, public records show. The buildings include Ontario Stone’s 5,500-square-foot office-warehouse constructed in 1979 as well as a 2,400-square-foot storage structure built in 1961. Ontario Stone will have to move its offices and storage elsewhere.

“Acquisition and future restoration of the property by Cleveland Metroparks is a unique opportunity to reclaim industrial land along the Cuyahoga River,” continued the park board’s summary, written by the Metroparks’ staff. But staff apparently never reached out to Ontario Stone before putting the matter before the Metroparks’ board.

“There is no deal with Metropark at this time or not even anything in a contract,” said David Jeras, operations manager at Ontario Stone. “Discussions were made but there is nothing on paper as of yet, and they stated they would get back with us and this was last fall. Not sure why they wouldn’t talk to us on what they are planning on doing. No deals have been made other than they have interest in the property and no contracts have been signed of any sort.”

NEOtrans sent an e-mail to Metroparks’ spokesperson Jacqueline Gerling seeking more information about the Metroparks seeking state funding for a property acquisition without having engaged in talks with the property owner. This article will be updated when NEOtrans hears back from the Metroparks.

Although enticing, a residential high-rise was only suggested for the site in marketing materials that accompanied the property’s listing on the Cresco real estate brokerage’s Web site. The Cleveland Metroparks plan to use the site for greenspace and recreation (Dimit).

A source familiar with the grant application process spoke to NEOtrans on the condition of anonymity and said the ORLP grant application was due to the state by late February. While evidence of a purchase agreement will need to be submitted, the grant application process is very long and won’t be decided until November 2025. The source said there’s plenty of time to secure that purchase agreement.

Not included in the Metroparks’ planned acquisition is a narrow strip of land measuring 0.9-acre, immediately adjacent to the Cuyahoga River’s main channel. It is owned by the U.S. government. A similar strip of land north of the railroad tracks, next to Wendy Park, is also owned by the U.S. government and has a Metroparks riverside boardwalk on it.

“Cleveland Metroparks has identified the (Ontario Stone) property as an important acquisition as it provides a protection and restoration opportunity along the Cuyahoga River and will add greenspace to an area identified as an Environmental Justice area and in a disadvantaged census tract as defined by the (Council on Environmental Quality’s) Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool,” the summary added.

The Lake Link Trail is currently bisected by the $60 million Irishtown Bend hill stabilization project. When that work is done in the fall of 2025, construction on the Irishtown Bend Park will follow and will link up the disconnected sections of the Lake Link Trail.

The Metroparks board today also approved seeking $10.8 million in ORLP funding to help pay the $45 million tab for building the park. If approved by the state, more than half of the funding will be in place for the new park. The ORLP program is funded by the National Park Service and the State of Ohio.

Trails are envisioned on both sides of the Cuyahoga River. On the other side of the river from the Ontario Stone site, private property owners and the Cleveland Metroparks are planning a public boardwalk that will need a federal waiver for the trail to encroach into the river’s federal navigation channel (CPC).

The Metroparks is planning continuous riverfront trails along both sides of the Cuyahoga River in the Flats, located between Downtown Cleveland and Ohio City/Tremont. That includes proposing a new trail built above the water, routed around Bobby George’s planned Old River Road redevelopment on the Flats East Bank. That trail will require a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ waiver to intrude into the river’s federal navigation channel.

Farther south along the river, a recent, major acquisition by the Metroparks was the addition of the Grain Craft Property, on which NEOtrans was first to report its pending closure and potential availability. That acquisition added 3.3 acres to the Metroparks’ holdings on the Columbus Road Peninsula just north of Rivergate Park.

“The acquisition of the Grain Craft property will allow Cleveland Metroparks to continue to plan for and implement a riverfront trail along the Cuyahoga River,” the park system’s staff noted in the board packet for today’s meeting. “In addition to acquiring nearly 500 acres, Cleveland Metroparks also acquired a floating barge, a unique opportunity that will be the future home of a lakefront nature center.”

The site of the floating nature center called Barge 225 will be Wildwood Marina at Euclid Creek Reservation on Lake Erie. A $525,000 grant from KeyBank and a $250,000 contribution from Jones Day Foundation will transform the former Hornblowers Barge & Grill into a one-of-a-kind floating nature-based education center. The properties acquired by the park system in 2023 brought the Cleveland Metroparks’ total acreage to over 25,000 acres.


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