Maui Sands' closing shuts down Erie County capital improvement projects

PERKINS TWP. A county plan to improve a dangerous intersection on U.S. 250 has been left high and dr
Tom Jackson
May 24, 2010

PERKINS TWP.

A county plan to improve a dangerous intersection on U.S. 250 has been left high and dry by the failure of the Maui Sands waterpark.

The park's closing derailed the funding source for a Tax Increment Financing project to fix the intersection of U.S. 250 and Park Place Drive South, near the Applebee's restaurant on the west side of U.S. 250, north of Ohio 2.

The $1.7 million project also would have improved a private road running from U.S. 250 to the Bayside Athletic Club, turning it into a public road.

Those projects are on hold for now, because the waterpark's closure curtails the stream of tax money that would have been used to pay off a proposed bond issue, said Alex MacNicol, director of the Erie Regional Planning Commission.

A TIF is designed to use development of new property to help finance public improvements.

When an empty field is turned into a shopping center, the value of the property rises sharply, hiking the amount of property taxes that can be collected on the parcel. A TIF captures a portion of the new property tax revenue (in Erie County, typically 50 percent) and directs it into a fund. The money is used to pay off bonds used to finance improvements at the site, such as roads and water lines.

MacNicol said the first step in the Maui Sands project was for the developer, Scott Emerson, to complete engineering plans for the intersection and road. That was unfinished when the waterpark shut down, so the county never made it to the next step -- issuing bonds to finance the improvements.

If another company buys the property and reopens the waterpark, the land could generate enough tax revenue to revive the project, MacNicol said.

"The TIF is still in place. Hopefully, we will get some stable owners," he said. "The TIF goes with the property, not with the owners."

If necessary, the county could scale back the work by doing the intersection first, MacNicol said.

MacNicol said he has happier news to report on two other recent TIF projects.

Construction is proceeding nicely on the new Menards hardware store and Aldi grocery at the new Lakecrest Town Center shopping center on U.S. 250 in northern Perkins Township. The TIF on that project is paying for about $1.7 million of access roads serving the site, MacNicol said.

Planning officials are particularly proud of how the Lakecrest Town Center project turned out, because the new shopping center replaces a closed industrial site, the former Bechtel-McLaughlin metal treatment plant.

If the shopping center had failed, "the problems with that site would be there for a long time," MacNicol said. "We saw this as a big advantage to the public."

MacNicol also has nothing but good news when he talks about the Northern Ohio Medical Center project nearing completion at Ohio 4 and Strub Road. The TIF will finance about $1.7 million of improvements at the intersection of the two roads, including new turn lanes for Strub.

The Northern Ohio Medical Center "has been great to work with," MacNicol said.

TIF funding was used a few years ago to develop the Quarry Lakes Business Park in Margaretta Township, an industrial park on Ohio 101, just off Ohio 2.

Although several businesses have located at Quarry Lakes, there's still plenty of lots available. The only construction there last year was an expansion of North Coast Cancer Care.

John Kovach, president of Comprehensive Development Solutions, said several businesses pulled back on their plans last year when the recession hit, including a family restaurant that had planned to build there. Kovach said he still hopes to land the restaurant soon.

"Everybody is sitting on the fence waiting for the economy," he said. "I feel if the economy turns, which we don't have control over, we could end up with two or three more people in that park, building in that park this year."