Today's front-page photo of Sandusky Municipal Court judge Erich O'Brien reminded me when I was a local news editor at The Chronicle-Telegram in Elyria. City Hall operations had moved to a vacated downtown Sears & Roebuck store years before, and stayed there for two decades, suffering its leaking roof and aging wiring system. The city finally built a downtown Elyira CIty Hall, fashioned to include the original City Hall building and a building next to it with new construction.
I'm not sure which building in downtown Sandusky housed a Sears store, but there are buildings in the district suitable for occupancy. The county building at Columbus and Washington Rowe alone has space suitable for offices, with parking right next door. Sandusky city commissioners have substantially better re-location options than Elyria city officials had when that city re-located its operations.
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And in Sandusky, there should be no automatic linkage that if the 222 Meigs Street City Hall is closed the property be made available to a developer with the highest bid. City officials have a deeper responsibility — one which many argue is being ignored given the condition at the former Surf's Up waterfront property — to carefully plan and execute preservation and the leveraging of publicly-controlled properties, especially along the waterfront.
The waterfront area that includes the former Surf's Up property, Battery Park and City Hall at 222 Meigs St. should be a top priority for city officials and a topic of public discussion with residents. But months after complaints about the city's stewardship nothing has developed out of city commission for Surf's Up and City Hall is still a secret plan yet to be revealed. Years after the Marina District failed, new ideas from the city are few.
Making the City Hall property available for parkland development along the city's waterfront with its one-of-a-kind, world-class view is not an insurmountable challenge. In fact, it may very well be the best path with least resistance and the wisest development choice city officials and planners could make. There's a whole downtown business district hugging that part of town, ready for development and re-development. Tourists love parks and downtown businesses and property owners love tourists.
What's needed is world-class planning equal to a world-class opportunity.