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While bittersweet, mayor says planned demolition of Avon Lake power plant presents incredible opportunity

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Posted at 5:41 PM, Jun 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-10 17:41:18-04

AVON LAKE, Ohio — A fixture on the Lake Erie shoreline for nearly a century, the Avon Lake power plant may be on borrowed time. GenOn Holdings, the company that owns the coal-fired plant, announced plans to retire the facility in September ahead of its eventual demolition and remediation of the site.

While the plant's closure will bring short-term declines in tax revenue collections, Avon Lake officials believe the plant's demolition is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve public access to the lake while also fostering new development.

Operations at the Avon Lake Generating Station have steadily declined over the past several years, resulting in the plant only operating during times of peak demand. The plant has only operated for roughly 50 days per year.

GenOn announced the plant's closure on Wednesday.

The property will be transferred to an unknown entity in the fall, assuming GenOn's plan is approved by market regulators over the next 90 days. The entity that takes control of the plant will also take on the substantial demolition project and any environmental remediation that needs to be done, city officials said. Avon Lake will apply for federal brownfields grants and other funding mechanisms to help with the cleanup effort. Demolition is expected to take two to three years.

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In the meantime, however, city officials are trying to play a role early in the property's future.

"We don't own the property but we are going to try to get a foothold in what's there and see if we can cooperate with the developer and make the lake more accessible, while at the same time allowing that person to build something that is exciting," said Avon Lake Mayor Greg Zilka. "There is a lot of potential here, not only on the north side of Lake Road but there's also property affiliated with this on the south side of Lake Road."

The loss of the power plant will result in some short-term declines in tax revenues, especially for Avon Lake schools, Zilka said. According to Lorain County assessor records, the 40-acre site generates more than $680,000 in gross property taxes each year. Two additional parcels that are owned by the plant's holding company generate nearly an additional $50,000 in gross property taxes a year. Additionally, the city also receives tax revenues on some of the generating station's equipment.

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"There's no question that this is going to be a decrease in taxes generated, particularly for the schools, but we hope we can weather that and land on our feet," Zilka said. "In the future, it will give us a more positive economic future."

Ted Esborn, the city's economic development director, said ready-to-develop land this expansive and on the water is extremely rare. Once the plant is demolished and the property is cleaned up, Esborn said he expects the property will generate a lot of interest among developers. Because the demolition process will take two to three years, it provides ample time to hone in on the best possible end use of the property. A majority priority, however, is an expansion of public access to the lakefront. Zilka said whatever happens to the property, city officials will insist that the available land will not solely be used for private, single-family homes.

"We want the residents of Avon Lake to have more access to the lake and more ways to enjoy the lake," Esborn said. "It may not seem immediately like it's economic development, but when you think about all the businesses that could come and thrive based on this new lake access part of our economy, the potential really is great. I think what we're looking at with such a large site is to kind of have a balance of uses that is productive for our local economy, provides recreation for people and it makes the area enjoyable."

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Built in 1926, the power plant was one of the most important construction projects in history for those living on the west side. The plant was constructed in Avon Lake because of its supply of cool water, which was necessary to condense steam as it left the turbines. When it was built, the Avon Lake power plant became the largest of its kind in the world, according to Cleveland Historical. Over the years, the iconic plant has become synonymous with Avon Lake and is cherished by many, Zilka said.

While the plant's planned demolition is bitter sweet, Zilka said the opportunity that lies ahead is tantalizing.

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"After this is down, we'll have a clean slate and then from there we'll build and hopefully we'll make decisions that are wise and correct," Zilka said. "Hopefully 10 to 15 years from now we'll say, 'boy, this has been a tremendous opportunity for the residents of Avon Lake, Lorain County and Northeast Ohio.'"