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Mentor Beach Park targeted for lakefront dining

Betsy Scott | The News-Herald

The dearth of dining options along Lake Erie in Lake County has some local leaders thinking outside the box.

Mentor city officials are in talks with the Lake County Ohio Port and Economic Development Authority about the potential for leasing Mentor Beach Park pavilion to a restaurant operator. The property, at 7779 Lake Shore Blvd., is in Mentor-on-the-Lake but is owned by Mentor.

Such an attraction is among the top needs expressed to Peter K. Zahirsky in his capacity as the Port Authority’s director of coastal development.

“We are always looking for new opportunities and identified this location as one worth exploring,” he said. “Aside from increasing the quality of life for our residents, this has the potential to create new employment opportunities and generate new revenues for the cities and county.

“The addition of lakefront dining options advances the spirit of the Coastal Development Plans and enhances the coastal attractiveness of the county.”

He emphasized that the remainder of the park would remain open to the public.

“What we have discussed is renovation and operation of the pavilion facility, particularly in a way that would not interfere with the enjoyment of the park greenspace,” he said. “At this point, all we are doing is restarting a conversation and resurrecting a concept that many people have discussed over the years. Nothing has been finalized.”

The lease would include the parking area around the building, which is often rented for events. Mentor City Council would have to approve the lease agreement.

“We would then look for a developer and operator to come in and perform the renovations to transform the space into a restaurant,” Zahirsky said. This, too, would be subject to city approval.

Mentor-on-the-Lake leaders also would be consulted as they have zoning authority over the property, primarily used by its residents.

Mentor-on-the-Lake Mayor David Eva is in favor of repurposing the pavilion. He said potential zoning changes include creating an entertainment district or a mixed-use area.

“It would be good for the city as it may increase traffic for our local business owners,” he said. “We have many different businesses on Andrews Road, and this development would be right at the corner of Andrews Road and Lake Shore Boulevard. Bringing more people into Mentor-on-the-Lake and potentially creating more jobs locally would be a big boost to the city.”

The Mentor administration and City Council recently discussed the matter during a work session.

“It is one of our more popular rental facilities,” City Manager Ken Filipiak said, noting that it is in use about 80 nights a year, on average.

In 2016, it generated more than $37,000 in revenue. That fell to $28,400 last year, in part, because a church was no longer renting it on a regular basis.

However, the facility is operating at a loss based on maintenance and manpower costs. Mentor spent about $150,000 on replacing the roof last year.

“It certainly makes it easier to consider (the restaurant use) when it isn’t directly serving our residents,” Filipiak said.

Mentor Councilwoman at large Janet Dowling asked whether the rental service could be provided by the city elsewhere.

Filipiak said, “There might be a lot of private rentals in town that would be glad for some more business opportunities.”

Ward 2 Councilman Matt Donovan said he has rented the building before, but sees the advantage of leasing the property.

“It’s a great facility; it’s historical,” he said. “But wouldn’t it be nice to have something else like that? How many places do we have to go have dinner on the lake? Fairport Harbor? … We always hope for more lake spots to go to. It’s not accessible.”

Filipiak said the public would still get to enjoy the site. “Maybe just enjoy it in a different way,” he said.