Conneaut Port Authority – Conneaut, Ohio

May 30, 2024

Conneaut Port Authority

Sailing Towards a Sustainable and Thriving Waterfront

 

Steering the future of Conneaut’s waterfront with visionary projects aimed at environmental stewardship, economic development, and recreational enrichment.

Conneaut, Ohio, is a gem that adorns the shores of Lake Erie, offering a blend of natural beauty, recreational activities, and flourishing economic development. The city is home to the Conneaut Port Authority, an entity at the forefront of transforming the waterfront into a vibrant hub for locals and visitors alike.

William Kline, Board Chairperson of the Conneaut Port Authority, describes the organization as a “steward of the Marina and lakefront area,” highlighting its multifaceted operations. The Port Authority leases land to businesses, collaborates with the city on development projects, and caters to diverse water-based recreational activities. From kayaking and parasailing to charter fishing for walleye and perch, the offerings are as varied as they are enticing. “The walleye and perch in Lake Erie are world-renowned, as is the steelhead fishing,” Kline shares, emphasizing the appeal of the local aquatic life.

A unique aspect of the Conneaut Port Authority’s stewardship is the preservation and enhancement of the sandbar, a natural jetty that allows visitors to drive out, picnic, and birdwatch in a protected wetland area. “It’s also a protected wetland, so we are stewards of that protected wetland,” Kline notes, detailing efforts to combat invasive species and encourage the growth of native plants. This commitment to environmental conservation has earned the Marina a platinum designation from the Ohio Clean Marinas organization, highlighting its dedication to sustaining the area’s natural beauty.

 

 

The Master Plan

In a move poised to reshape its waterfront and bolster the community, the Conneaut Port Authority has laid the groundwork for a transformative future by developing a comprehensive master plan. Kline explains efforts to devise the master plan, revealing,

“We used some grant money to work with a company to help us develop this master plan.” According to him, the plan targets the Marina area and port district’s evolution across four fundamental dimensions: environmental stewardship, economic vitality, life safety and access, and cultural and recreational enrichment.

Terri Trisket, Administrative Manager at Conneaut Port Authority, specifies the partnerships that propelled the master plan into existence. “We partnered with Priority Engineering, a firm out of Florida, as well as ECT, with offices in Cleveland and Chicago,” she mentions. This collaboration has crystallized the Port Authority’s ambitions into nine project areas, each designed to tackle challenges and harness opportunities within the environmental, economic, safety, access, and cultural-recreational domains.

A focal point of this visionary plan is the enhancement of pedestrian and bike accessibility, addressing the current limitations. “Walkability is a huge factor,” Trisket states, pointing out the lack of sidewalks and the traffic challenges that currently mar the experience. “Improvements in this area will facilitate movement and give a unified aesthetic appeal through harmonized walkways and landscaping,” she says.

Among the highlights of the proposed projects is the expansion of the Marina. Trisket shares, “The biggest one would be the new Marina, with an additional 40 slips, able to accommodate boats up to 100ft.” This expansion, already through the permitting process with approvals from the Ohio EPA and the US Army Corp of Engineers, alongside a DNR permit for the containment wall, promises to attract larger vessels and increase transient boater traffic.

Adjacent to this Marina expansion, plans for developing the bank of Naylor Drive aim to introduce mixed-use lots, promising a vibrant blend of Airbnbs, restaurants, storefronts, and perhaps apartments. “We’re looking at bringing people in with a variety of businesses,” Trisket enthuses. “We envision a community bustling with activity, from ice cream shops to wine-tasting rooms.”

Trisket also describes plans for aesthetic and functional enhancements along the waterfront. The introduction of boardwalks, a script sign marking Conneaut, and elevated platforms through the wetlands aim to enrich visitor engagement while preserving the delicate ecological balance. A particularly poignant initiative addresses a known hazard in the harbor—the solid current passing through a gap in the breakwall, a site of numerous drownings. “We will put an elevated platform that allows you to walk out there and see, but it provides that stop,” she says, emphasizing the dual goals of enhancing the visitor experience and ensuring safety.

On the broader outlook of the plan, Trisket affirms its potential to transform the port district into a vibrant, interconnected community. “Yes, and this is just phase one of our master planning effort,” she reveals, hinting at future expansions extending the plan’s reach beyond the waterfront into the heart of Conneaut itself. The aspiration is to weave cohesiveness throughout the area, from the bustling activities at the lakefront to the thriving businesses on Park Avenue, creating a seamless experience for residents and visitors alike.

 

Toward Tourism and Sustainability

© Richard McBride 2022

Under the strategic guidance of the Conneaut Port Authority, the Port of Conneaut is steering toward a future where leisure and environmental responsibility converge. In its ambitious vision, the port will transform into a destination for recreational vessels and eco-conscious tourists, harmonizing with the area’s rich historical and natural assets.

Kline clarifies the Port Authority’s focus on accommodating recreational rather than cargo vessels. The ambition to attract Viking’s Great Lakes cruises emphasizes a strategy to boost tourism by leveraging Conneaut’s scenic marina, its proximity to renowned wineries, and its historical significance, including connections to the Underground Railroad. “We’d love to have Conneaut be a port where they stop,” Kline says, “to introduce passengers to the area’s attractions, from local tours to the Ashtabula County region’s natural beauty and historical depth.”

Regarding sustainability and the technical specifics of construction projects like the breakwall platform, Trisket provides insight into the materials and designs being considered. She references a pier in Saint Clair Shores, Michigan, as a model for the Conneaut project, emphasizing the need for durability against ice and wave action. “It would need to be a fairly sturdy structure,” Trisket notes, “meaning that it will utilize resilient and maintenance-friendly materials.”

In drawing tourists to Conneaut, Trisket speaks to partnerships with local tourism boards and exploring online platforms for marina bookings. “We partner with the Conneaut Convention and Visitors Bureau,” she states, outlining efforts to extend Conneaut’s reach and attract visitors via innovative dock software and collaborations with the Ashtabula County Tourism Board. This strategic approach is designed to put Conneaut on the map for travelers seeking unique experiences on the Great Lakes.

Kline reflects on the current visitor demographics, noting the significant draw from surrounding areas like Erie, Youngstown, and Pittsburgh and interest from New York state. He points to the flourishing wine tourism and the proliferation of top-notch restaurants as critical factors in Conneaut’s appeal. “Ashtabula County, where Conneaut is located, has well over 30 wineries in the area,” he remarks, suggesting that the combination of water recreation, dining, and wine tourism forms a compelling draw for those seeking a less urban experience.

Laying the Foundations for the Future

As the Conneaut Port Authority sails through 2024 and into the early months of 2025, its sights are set on pivotal projects that promise to transform the waterfront into a bustling recreation hub, environmental stewardship, and community pride. With a detailed master plan as its guide, the Port Authority prioritizes infrastructure development, environmental projects, and funding strategies to ensure the sustainable growth of Conneaut’s lakefront and port district.

For Kline, a key priority is the development of infrastructure along Naylor Drive, which is essential for the anticipated expansion. “One of our biggest ones will be infrastructure in and along the Naylor Drive development area,” he states, emphasizing the necessity of sewer and water lines to support growth. Concurrently, the focus on environmental initiatives, buoyed by a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant, aims to enhance coastal resilience and sustainability. Trisket elaborates on the grant’s purpose, “We were awarded…for planning to ensure the area’s development does not compromise its most valuable asset, Lake Erie.”

In the immediate future, Trisket highlights the importance of securing funding for the Marina project, a cornerstone of the Port Authority’s vision. “We have the permits in place,” she notes, detailing the pursuit of grant applications and state capital budget funding as crucial next steps. This financial strategy underpins the ambition to reinvest generated revenue into the community to ensure continuous improvement and growth.

Addressing parking concerns, Kline outlines short-term plans to enhance accessibility and convenience for visitors. With a practical focus on paving existing lots and exploring opportunities for additional parking, the Port Authority is preparing to accommodate increased traffic resulting from development efforts. Moreover, Kline reveals plans to engage federal and state representatives in securing funding to propel engineering and construction projects forward, with a keen eye on completing the Marina and initiating living shore projects within the next two years.

On attracting Viking Cruises to Conneaut, Kline admits, “That is on my wish list,” acknowledging the need for further development to make the port an attractive stopover for such prestigious cruises. This aspiration aligns with the broader vision to enhance Conneaut’s appeal as a destination for visitors and potential residents, contributing to the area’s economic and recreational allure.

Trisket and Kline both emphasize the overarching goal of building a community-focused future for Conneaut. Trisket’s reflection, “I want them to stay in the area…to be very proud of,” captures the collective ambition to create a vibrant, sustainable community that retains and attracts families. Kline adds, “We’re focused on our little niche of that big picture,” highlighting the Port Authority’s role in cultivating a conducive environment for broader economic and social development.

As the Conneaut Port Authority moves forward, its strategic priorities—infrastructure development, environmental preservation, and comprehensive planning for recreational and economic growth—set the stage for a future where Conneaut flourishes as a beachhead of community pride, environmental stewardship, and a vibrant local economy.

AT A GLANCE

Conneaut Port Authority

What: An entity focused on the stewardship and development of Conneaut’s Marina and waterfront areas, committed to environmental sustainability, economic growth, and recreational opportunities.

Where: Conneaut, Ohio, USA

Website: http://www.conneautportauthority.com/

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