Developer Plans $1.25B Rehab of 111-Year-Old Quarry

Sat June 04, 2005 - Midwest Edition

SOUTH AMHERST (AP) A developer has planned a $1.25-billion residential, commercial and recreation complex on the grounds of long-dormant quarries that provided sandstone to landmarks around the nation for 111 years.

“Perhaps it takes an outsider to see the beauty that local people cannot see,” Neil Pike told The Plain Dealer. “People who live there literally can’t see the forest for the trees. You see a quarry. We see a world-class facility.”

Pike envisioned the 1,000-acre site 35 mi. southwest of Cleveland with luxury housing and hotels, office towers, restaurants, a championship golf course and a glass-enclosed former quarry converted into an all-weather beach.

South Amherst village and Amherst and Brownhelm townships have approved zoning changes. Pike’s Trans European Securities International soon plans to exercise its option to buy the property for approximately $24 million.

“I have to keep pinching myself,” said Ronald Twining, director of community development of Lorain County, which includes the nearby cities of Lorain and Elyria.

“This British company is taking an area zoned heavy industrial and wants to turn it into a luxury housing and recreation area, and [it] has no plans to ask for tax abatements or a dime from the government? It’s too good to be true.”

Pike said he was attracted to South Amherst because the quarry land price was reasonable.

South Amherst, located along the Ohio Turnpike corridor, has about 1,800 residents, 550 homes, one traffic light and little crime. The business district consists of a gas station, a quilt shop, a grocery store, a pizza shop and a hairdresser.

“This will change the face of South Amherst,” said Don Pignitella, owner of “Piggy’s,” South Amherst’s small grocery. “Once that door is open, with sewer lines and development, all these farmers’ fields around here will sprout houses. I can’t say whether that change will be for the good, but it’s coming.”

Initial skepticism by residents should disappear next summer when construction starts. In September, a traffic impact assessment will be followed by an environmental assessment.

Pike said the golf course, designed to attract international competitions, will be planned by Robin Day, who has handled Trans European golf projects in Spain, Turkey, Greece and the United Kingdom.

As envisioned, the complex could attract 18,000 new residents.

The financially strapped Firelands school district welcomes the project. Superintendent Tom Diringer said it would bring tax relief to the district, even if quarry residents send their children elsewhere.

“Even if we don’t get a huge influx of students, those residents will still be paying taxes to the community,” he said.

The site’s five quarries, now filled with water, started in 1869 and produced stone used in landmarks including the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Building in Boston, and in Cleveland, the Old Stone Church, the Hope Memorial Bridge and the public school headquarters.

No stone has been removed from the quarry for 25 years, said Russ Ciphers, president and chief executive of Cleveland Quarries.

“I’ve been working with Neil a long time on this,” he said. “I can’t wait to see it. In fact, I am buying one of the houses so I can live here.”