For nearly two years there has been a grass roots effort to restore the historic Port Clinton lighthouse, which the late Dave Jeremy fortuitously saved from destruction in 1952. The current owner, Darrell Brand, in an effort to ensure it would be preserved into the future, sought to gift it to the city of Port Clinton. The Port Clinton Lighthouse Conservancy was created to fund and supervise the restoration work and facilitate the lighthouse transfer.
In December 2011, following a recommendation by the Parks Committee, the city council voted to accept the gift of the lighthouse. The expectation then was that the lighthouse would be placed in Waterworks Park near the end of a planned Adams Street extension. However, with the transfer of power to a new administration these plans were shelved. In April 2012 Mr. Brand met with newly elected Mayor Leone to discuss lighthouse placement. Mr. Brand wanted the structure to be located in the park near the Lake Erie shore while the mayor wanted it to be placed at the corner of Perry and Jefferson Streets, on the site of the recently demolished Waterworks building. They failed to reach an agreement.
The mayor’s chosen location was discussed at length by the Conservancy and found to be neither acceptable nor suitable, for these reasons: First, as the mayor knows, Mr. Brand rejects this location for aesthetic reasons, preferring a waterfront location close to its original location. Although some have claimed intransigence on his part, Mr. Brand has in fact worked tirelessly with the Conservancy to craft a proposal that allows the city great flexibility with placement while honoring his wishes. It is the mayor who refuses to consider any other options. Second, according to state officials, placing the lighthouse at Adams and Jefferson would preclude its inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, while any of the waterfront locations identified in our proposal likely would be approved. Third, this location is aesthetically inconsistent with the historic nature of the lighthouse, particularly one whose purpose was as a pier-head light. For all of these reasons, we could not support nor recommend to Mr. Brand the adoption of the mayor’s proposed location for the lighthouse.
In June 2012 the mayor declined an invitation to meet with the Conservancy. Frustrated with the lack of action, the Conservancy decided this past January to initiate a grassroots campaign to educate the public about the lighthouse and its value to the city. We dubbed this campaign, “Bring Back the Light!” We held public meetings, spoke to local civic organizations, and distributed literature to educate the public. On March 1 the Conservancy submitted a comprehensive proposal to the city detailing the potential economic value of the lighthouse to the city and identifying three potential sites within a corridor of land on the waterfront in the Waterworks Park where the lighthouse could be placed without impinging on a proposed fishing lodge development.
After the Conservancy held a press conference to announce the release of its proposal, city officials indicated an interest in discussing the issue. Email exchanges followed, offering some hope the city might wish to work toward a solution. In a show of compromise, the Conservancy proposed placing the lighthouse at a location north of the Derby Pond, well outside the area earmarked for a future development. We invited city leaders and council members to view the site with us. We were encouraged when the safety and service director, chief of police, and some council members came out to the site and asked questions about our proposal. Their comments encouraged us to believe that we might yet have a deal.
Then in April, members of the Conservancy were summoned to a meeting with the Mayor, the City Council President and Safety Service Director. Our group went to the meeting hopeful that the city would now work with us toward a solution. Instead, we were presented with a list of reasons why the Derby Pond location was not suitable. These included a conflict with the annual fireworks, lack of ADA accessibility, interference with pending trail extension and Army Corps of Engineers shoreline work, environmental issues, and incompatibility with Mr. Rose’s proposed development scheme. The mayor considered these to be deal breakers. In our view, these were issues that could be worked through or were non-issues. For instance, according to a state website, the walking trail in the park, which would be adjacent to the lighthouse, is ADA accessible. The lighthouse itself, as a historic structure, is exempt from ADA rules. The fireworks could be moved to avoid conflicts, in which case the Conservancy could help to defray additional costs. The other reasons given were all addressable. The mayor again pushed for the Jefferson and Perry location.
Despite this disappointment, we left the meeting still hopeful of an agreement and buoyed by assurances from the mayor that he believed the lighthouse was a desirable asset. We thought that if the objections of the city could be overcome, an agreement might still be possible. Two week later, however, we received word that the city would not under any circumstances accept this gift unless there are “no strings attached” to its transfer. In other words, our Derby Pond location proposal was dead on arrival.
After long reflection and discussion we believe the mayor has not acted in good faith. We believe his intent all along has been to place the lighthouse at the Adams and Perry location and that he only gave lip service to other options in order to appear accommodating to us and reasonable to the press, the council, and members of the public. We do not believe the mayor sees the lighthouse as a part of the city’s historical heritage or future vision, but rather as potential window dressing for future Waterworks Park development.
We have gone out of our way to reach an agreement. We believe the Derby Pond location is a fair compromise, one that serves the people of the city. We are convinced that it will not conflict in any way with the proposed development (at least insofar as that plan has been portrayed to the public at large) and we believe there is broad support from the business community and the public for the Derby Pond location.
Frustrated that the city will not work with us and united in the belief that the lighthouse is too important to the people of Port Clinton for a select few to decide its fate, we are now making a direct appeal to the people of Port Clinton and to their direct representatives, the members of the city council, to take up this cause.
The lighthouse belongs to the people of Port Clinton and deserves to be placed in a location befitting its historic and iconic status. Its image graces the seal of the city of Port Clinton, as well as the logos of the Chamber of Commerce and Main Street Port Clinton. It reflects, as no other structure can, the city’s rich maritime heritage and unique character. We intend to see it gifted to the city and placed in the Waterworks Park on the lakeshore, either during this administration or a future one. Too many dedicated volunteers have selflessly devoted too much time and energy to quit now.
We want to make it clear that we are keeping the door open and the lights on. We remain ever hopeful for a resolution to this matter. We are ready to work with the city at any time the city decides to work with us. But we can no longer wait for the fulfillment of empty promises. Please join us in this effort to return the lighthouse to the waterfront now, for the betterment of the city and its people.
Richard J. Norgard, President, Port Clinton Lighthouse Conservancy
Board Members: Darrell Brand, Rev. Robert Butcher, Doug Garrett, Joan Hickman, Debbie Hymore-Tester, Kyle Johannsen, Bill Moon, Commander Jerry Nauert, John Smothers, Alex Thomas