Aurora mayor touts Geauga Lake plans, trail, recreation center, theater

Aurora Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin delivers the State of the City address on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, at the Bertram Inn and Conference Center in Aurora.
Aurora Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin delivers the State of the City address on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, at the Bertram Inn and Conference Center in Aurora.

Plans to transform the former Sea World and Geauga Lake properties into a public park, a potential recreation center, the Aurora Trail and a return of a movie theater to the city were just a few of the topics Aurora Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin addressed in her State of the City address.

In her address Wednesday at the Bertram Inn & Conference Center, Womer Benjamin also paid tribute to city staff and county officials, as well as a list of businesses that expanded over the past year or announced plans to do so. They included LayerZero and A.I.M., which both intend to expand their existing Aurora factories.

"These things don't happen without significant investment of time and effort of the city and our development partners," she said.

What about the recreation center?

Womer Benjamin said a recreation center for Aurora is still under review.

A demand study was conducted in 2021, and Womer Benjamin created an ad hoc recreation center committee in 2022. It will oversee and evaluate the feasibility study recently approved by council. The committee also will review alternatives and solicit public comments.

"This is not a light undertaking," she said.

She noted that the committee must evaluate a number of factors, including costs, feasibility and the willingness of voters to support a levy. The city, she noted, must be careful to avoid sharing a ballot with the Aurora City Schools, which plans to seek a bond issue in November to build a new high school.

Aurora Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin delivers the State of the City address Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, at the Bertram Inn and Conference Center in Aurora.
Aurora Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin delivers the State of the City address Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, at the Bertram Inn and Conference Center in Aurora.

Aurora Trail

Last month, Aurora secured $500,000 for the Aurora Trail Phase One project through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Clean Ohio Trails Fund grant program. Phase One is a 2.8-mile, 10-foot wide, asphalt trail that will run from Chamberlain Road in Mantua to State Route 82 in Aurora’s historic Station District.

Construction is to begin this year.

What's the latest with Geauga Lake?

The mayor acknowledged that Geauga Lake is a frequent question among residents. In June, the city announced its intention to buy the 40-acre former Sea World property, as well as the 53-acre Geauga Lake property, and turn them into a park.

Womer Benjamin said city officials are still working out issues related to the purchase. A "conceptual plan" for the park is being finalized, including utility infrastructure.

Theater to open again in city

The mayor said the return of a movie theater to Aurora is among the city's most exciting developments.

Atlas Cinemas plans to take over the former Cinemark movie theater at 140 Barrington Town Square in the Barrington Plaza. The former Cinemark theater, which opened in 2003, closed in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and never reopened.

"We are very excited," she said.

Resolving flooding

Last year, Aurora received a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency of more than $2 million to purchase flood-prone homes in the Geauga Lake neighborhood. FEMA said last year that the grant will fund the acquisition and demolition of 11 flood-prone residential structures and the acquisition of one flood-prone vacant parcel.

Womer Benjamin said the city is hiring a consultant, who will be charged with creating a stormwater mitigation plan.

New high school might be on November ballot

Wednesday's event also served as Aurora City Schools' "State of the Schools" address. The district is looking to move forward with a new high school building.

Superintendent Mike Roberto said the project would replace Craddock Elementary School with a new high school, then move younger students to existing buildings within the district. A bond issue is expected to go before voters in November.

A number of community meetings are planned in late April and early May to discuss the project.

"Although there is a long way to go, and much work to be done, we are excited for the journey," Roberto said.

A renewal levy will go before voters March 19, he said. The levy is not a tax increase, and would bring in the same amount of money it did when it was first approved in 1982. Because new homes have been built in the district, the cost of the levy to individual taxpayers has gone down, Roberto said.

Reporter Diane Smith can be reached at 330-298-1139 or dsmith@recordpub.com.

This article originally appeared on Record-Courier: Aurora mayor touts Geauga Lake plans, trail, business growth in State of the City