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Parks & Reclamation 

The Cleveland Metroparks Has More Money Than Ever, Six New Lakefront Parks and a CEO With a Grand Vision. It Also Has Plenty of Problems.

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The 30-page MKSK Master Plan is flush with images of farmers markets and youth soccer, to say nothing of Google Maps and sleek architectural renderings. The biggest financial priority (and one of residents' most pressing desires) was the rebuilding and extension of the Euclid Beach pier, estimated at $4 million.

Northeast Shores executive director Brian Friedman and LAND project manager Joel Wimbiscus presented the plan to Brian Zimmerman and the Metroparks board on Oct. 25, 2012. This was prior to the Metroparks' acquisition of Euclid Beach and the other lakefront properties.

The presentation wasn't what you'd call a slam dunk.

Though ultimately congratulatory, the commissioners seemed skeptical. (Audio of all Metroparks' board meetings and work sessions are available at clevelandmetroparks.com. The audio of this work session, however, was unavailable until Scene made a special request). In particular, Commissioner Dan T. Moore, the military helmet-pad magnate and former Whiskey Island owner, was adamant that visitors should be permitted to have "a beer or a glass of wine" at the park.

Friedman stated at least twice that residents were resistant to that idea, given Euclid Beach's history as a no-alcohol amusement park, and suggested that alcohol was the one item on which he'd have a very difficult time winning over the community.

Moore challenged him on it, asked him what statistics he had to back up his claims, said that he could poll 10 people at Whiskey Island and eight or nine of them would say they'd prefer to have a beer, which is sort of like saying you could poll 10 people in a bar and eight or nine of them would say they'd like to drink in a bar. When commissioner Bruce Rinker (the Mayfield Village mayor and attorney representing McDonald's in the Ohio City dispute) observed that Moore seemed "hung up" on the alcohol issue, Moore backpedaled and said only that the park needed to have something which would "drag" visitors there. He referenced Seattle and Chicago twice.

"I'm hung up on how you get people there. I want to make sure you understand: You have to offer people what they want," said Moore.

When Friedman said that improving the water quality and providing safe, clean beaches — the lakefront stretch from Euclid Beach to Wildwood is more public beach space than anywhere in Northeast Ohio, by the way — were the No. 1 items on residents' realistic wish list, Zimmerman chimed in:

"Think of the bigger picture, when you look at the amenities and some of the other business modeling we've been talking about. When you have a clean beach, you have, you know, some sort of little cabanas or some of the other things. I think where Commissioner Moore is going is you're going to have to provide — as traditional as the park may be or may have been — moving into that general framework of where it needs to go and how it needs to evolve. You're going to need to provide the amenities."  

Again, this work session took place months before the official Metroparks acquisition, but the tone here seems significant. It's dismissive and it's arrogant. It presupposes that the sort of adult-friendly development on Whiskey Island (and West 25th Street, notably) is the sort that residents always prefer. Commissioner Moore argued as such even when explicitly advised otherwise.

Other than the master plan itself, here's further "historical evidence" to back up Friedman's assertions. It's a clip from David and Diane Francis' book Cleveland Amusement Park Memories, published by Cleveland's Gray & Company in 2004:

"After 1901, when it was purchased by the Humphrey family, Euclid Beach became what was known as a "Sunday School" operation. The Humphrey Company imposed strict rules of deportment on park guests and established a code of decency that set Euclid Beach apart from most other parks in the industry. Alcoholic beverages were not sold at Euclid Beach, nor were they permitted on park grounds; and any person who was obviously under the influence of alcohol was turned away at the gate. The Humphreys had no tolerance for rowdy behavior of any kind, and they employed their own police to enforce park rules."

"I think it'd be interesting to get the community's thoughts on what they would really use," said Moore as the back-and-forths subsided, his copy of the Master Plan (chock-full of the community's thoughts) evidently untouched. At the end of the meeting, when he called Friedman's efforts "fabulous, for a start," he instructed the Northeast Shores executive director to "really think" about the park's assets.

"Think of what will make citizens go there and want to be there," he said. "That's something that has to be organic to the community."

The Mobile Home Dissection

If commissioner Moore seemed unduly ruffled by the question of alcohol, CEO Brian Zimmerman seemed ruffled (in his muted, executive way) at the question of the Euclid Beach Mobile Home Community, right next door to Euclid Beach.

As it turns out, there's been a semantic movement afoot since the early 1990s that has tried to remove the social stigmas surrounding mobile home communities, so the manager at Euclid Beach, a mile-a-minute zebra-stripe-wearing Michelle Orndoff, telling woebegone callers of various trailers' "monster potential" while signing for UPS packages and sending faxes, won't call it a "trailer park."  

Zimmerman, at the Oct. 25 board meeting, called it a compound.

"Why live in an apartment building and throw your money away on rent??" asks the webpage of Moore Enterprises (unrelated to commissioner Dan). "Start building equity now in your very own mobile home. Pull up in your own driveway and park your car in your garage. Plant flowers in the spring and rake leaves from your tree in the fall. Even shoveling snow in the winter is pleasurable as you realize the American dream. We will treat you like family at Moore Homes USA."

"Moore Homes" is something of an accidental capitalist double entendre when it comes to James Moore, the absentee owner of the Euclid Beach Mobile Home Community.  In Irving, Texas, on an airport freeway, in a building paneled in what seems like the only washed glass for miles, Moore owns and operates one of the largest mobile home conglomerates in the United States.  

He's been gobbling up properties left and right since 1987, and nowhere more so than in Ohio. Moore owns 22 mobile home communities in the Buckeye State. That's one more than all his other properties — in Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Montana — combined.

And the property on Lakeshore may be a hiccup down the road, if it interferes with the Metroparks' designs.

The puddles and gravel and trucker hats and American flags speared into the frosted mud, drooping in postures of piety, and the trios of denim-jacketed men and the Natty Lights, open and exposed, and the slow moving sedans of greys and creams and uncertain '90s vintage, patrolling these streets and grumbling like rodeo bulls in wait, and the beer bottles and chintzy decorations — Christmas, of course, but also Halloween and Easter — and the propane tanks and the cats and the cat decorations and the cat towers in what feels like every other open window and the signage endorsing vigilante justice ("We Don't Dial 911"):  It's a collage of stereotypical trailer-park imagery laid bare and real.

Currently, there are 240 mobile homes occupied in the 267-site park, Michelle Orndoff said. The community is fenced off from Euclid Beach to the east and Wildwood to the west.

Northeast Shores has acknowledged that it's not an ideal land use, to have two public parks bisected by the mobile home community; but to a certain extent, there's nothing they can do.

"The trailer park is not for sale," Friedman told the board last year.

James Moore is notorious for never relinquishing his properties. He's made it clear that he has no interest in communicating, or "engaging" as community development professionals say.  

Councilman Mike Polensek has suggested that the mobile home area be converted to an "urban campground," pending acquisition, but doesn't have an incredibly cordial relationship with Orndoff and the mobile home management team. Polensek wouldn't comment on whether or not there were plans to acquire the property, even at some point in the future.

"There are still discussions being had," said Polensek, in a phone interview.

Although who's having those discussions is unclear.

Orndoff certainly isn't. From her trailer office, she said that she's spoken with no one from the Metroparks or elsewhere about the property being sold. She was happy to voice her appreciation of the Metroparks' early cleanup efforts at Euclid Beach.  

"They've been down here every day," she said, of the cleanup crews. "Every single day."

James Moore, in Texas, didn't respond to requests for comment. But one of his regional directors, in Toledo, said she hadn't heard anything about the Lakeshore property.   

Joel Wimbiscus, at LAND, said he had "no knowledge" of what the Metroparks' next steps were, but that he suspected the mobile home community was fairly low on their priority list.  

Sue Allen was very forthright when questioned about the future of the mobile home community. "There are no plans," she said. "It's premature to speculate."

When asked if CMP was satisfied with the current arrangement, Allen said, "I never said that."

The Secret Infrastructure

Right now, according to Allen, the Metroparks are still in the "look, learn and listen" phase of their lakefront property ownership, "trying to get a sense of the deferred maintenance." She reminded Scene that they've only been in charge of the parks since June, and that much still has to be learned about what specifically they've acquired.

Stephen Love, of the Euclid Beach Adopt-a-Beach group, generally agreed in a phone interview. He said that crews have been doing physical inventories at the parks "down to the level of the faucet."

He also said, at Euclid Beach, that there's a much larger potential infrastructural acquisition that the Metroparks weren't expecting. A team of structural engineers and maintenance crews discovered a portion of concrete at the base of the pier not supported underneath.

"It was hollow," said Love, "and that hollow area potentially extends well into the park."

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