Empty fields occupy a once-lavish vineyard filled with savory grapes flavoring wine.
A few hundred feet from the barren plantation sits a mystical castle-like battered structure previously ruling a flourishing yet fallen empire.
Rust, rubble, rocks and rubbish now populate the former Lonz Winery site.
But not for long.
State officials on Thursday announced plans to finally spruce up the former bustling lakeside property.
Starting this year, a $6 million rejuvenation project to cleanup and resurrect Lonz Winery begins.
The funds, coming from the state’s budget, aim to:
• Renovate support work on the main winery building, including initial structural repairs.
• Remove asbestos and other hazardous materials.
• Refurbish the house near Lonz Winery, once belonging to George Lonz, the winery's founder.
• Pave the way to create some use of the legendary building.
“We believe it’s very, very important to return Lonz Winery into a destination … that will benefit residents and local businesses,” said James Zehringer, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources director.
The former winery could become a restaurant, a gallery, another winery or some other local gathering place. It's truly up to community members.
In the coming months, officials plan to host open houses at Lonz Winery, encouraging people to attend and offer suggestions as to what on-site transformation they’d like to see.
Lonz Winery’s terrace collapsed in 2000, destroying the building’s structural integrity. The horrific incident killed one person and injured up to 100 others. A short time later, the state purchased the property for $6.75 million. Since then, the property has remained empty.
State officials contend they need to partner with private individuals or businesses to fully redevelop the site.
No matter what becomes of the site, many seemed thrilled with state officials targeting improvements at such a legendary location.
“What they are doing is fantastic,” said Dale Burris, a longtime North Bass Island resident who worked at Lonz Winery as a vineyard manager in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Burris also worked with George Lonz. “It makes me sick going up there and looking at it now.”
George Lonz died in the 1970s. His family opened the business as Lonz Winery in the 1920s. Before then, the facility was a winery under a different name.
When asked how George Lonz would respond to these upgrades, Burris said, “He would be a happy man to see his place and home coming back. Those buildings are amazing. It’s going to be a destination. People have been waiting for something to happen up there. It’s going to be good.”
State park upgrades
State officials on Thursday also announced wide-sweeping changes at various other properties. The projects should start and end sometime within the next two years:
• Catawba Island State Park: Knocking down the old park office, replacing bathrooms and enhancing the boat launch ramps.
• East Harbor State Park: Updating the restrooms, improving the electrical systems and providing more on-site services. This piggybacks off other planned upgrades, such as a new courtesy dock, scheduled at this property.
• Kelleys Island State Park: Receiving more accommodations, including electrical and water hookups.
• North Bass Island State Park: Providing more boating access, installing new hiking trails and creating new and bolstering current primitive campsites.
• South Bass Island State Park: Upgrading campsites with electrical hookups.
The upgrades, officials said, should cost “a couple of million dollars.”
A video of ODNR officials announcing new funding for the improvements is available at www.sanduskyregister.com.