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How Sandusky Reimagined Its Shoreline

Like many cities in the Midwest, Sandusky was founded in the early days of our country as an industrial port town. The city’s location on the Sandusky Bay in Lake Erie allowed for the fishing and ice industries to thrive and the city later became home to a robust paper industry. In the mid-1800s, the railroads entered Sandusky and land was filled in along the north end of downtown so that trains could have easy access to the various factories and ice houses that were dotted along wharfs and docks on the waterfront. Those same tracks also carried passengers to a ferry terminal downtown where they could board ferries to travel across the bay to Sandusky’s most well-known attraction—Cedar Point.

In the mid-20th Century, industry declined and the factories along the waterfront closed down. The railroad stopped running along the water in the 1970s, the tracks were paved over, and the former railroad right-of-way became Shoreline Drive. Ever since then, Sandusky has been slowly turning its formerly industrial waterfront into a place where people can enjoy the water. The most recent transformations have been the reconstruction of Shoreline Drive and the Jackson Street Pier.

Shoreline Drive used to have wide driving lanes which allowed cars to drive down the street at high speeds, and there was very little sidewalk space for people to walk or bike. The buildings that abutted the south side of Shoreline Drive were treated as the back of house for the various restaurants and businesses, meaning dumpsters were everywhere and the spaces were not that visually attractive. The Jackson Street Pier itself was primarily just a large parking lot that also served as docks for the Goodtime I cruise boat and the Pelee Islander Ferry.

Today, Shoreline Drive and the Jackson Street Pier barely resemble their former selves. The driving lanes on Shoreline have been narrowed, the utility lines buried, the sidewalks widened to allow for outdoor dining, and a multi-use path has been built along the water that serves as the keystone of the Sandusky Bay Pathway. On the pier, the large parking lot has given way to a green lawn to be used for events, a perimeter boardwalk, trellis swings, a 4-season pavilion, and a revamped ferry terminal.

We had big plans for the summer of 2020 to unveil the new pier and street, but like so many other things, those plans were dashed by COVID. We could no longer do any big events, nor host any large community gatherings. However, as soon as the pier opened, there was a palpable excitement among the residents of Sandusky. Immediately after pulling back the construction barriers, hundreds of people began streaming onto the pier to check out the new space.

Shoreline Drive and the Jackson Street Pier are no longer the domain of the automobile, but are now truly places for people. People on bikes are constantly riding down the Sandusky Bay Pathway, as other people take casual strolls down the sidewalk right next to the path. People can now sit and relax at the base of the Columbus Avenue Slip as they look out at the Sandusky Bay thanks to a newly installed seat wall that denotes Mile Marker Zero of the Pathway. Sunset at the Jackson Street Pier has become a community event as hundreds of people congregate every night to watch the spectacle of the sun setting over the bay. Some local residents started an ice cream cart business called the Frozen Tiki and they are on their pier every night selling a wide variety of frozen treats. Once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, the pier will also be home to regularly scheduled public programming throughout the entirety of the year—like concerts, outdoor movies, and an ice rink, just to name a few. But even now, the pier is undoubtedly one of the most diverse places in the city and has quickly become the primary community gathering spot in Sandusky. In the short time that the pier has been open, it has already even been the site of multiple marriage proposals—a testament to its endearing qualities that make it a great place.

Jackson Street Pier works as a great place because it offers different experiences simultaneously. An active port is part of a public park. An outdoor concert venue has downtown as its backstage. The Pier is not great solely by its individual components; it is great because they work together in the heart of Sandusky.

About the Author: Eric Wobser

A native of Sandusky, Ohio, Eric Wobser has been City Manager of Sandusky since 2014. Since being hired as the City Manager, Eric has partnered with the City Commission, staff and the community for the passage of Issue 8 and the creation and implementation of the Bicentennial Vision.  Highlights of the last five years include over $100 million in public and private investment in Downtown Sandusky, including a new City Hall, the  creation of the Cedar Fair School of Resort Management and the transformation of the city’s waterfront via the reconstruction of Jackson Street Pier and Shoreline Drive. Additionally, the city has focused on neighborhood redevelopment, blight elimination and the expansion of the Sandusky Transit System. These improvements and others led to Sandusky being named “America’s Best Coastal Small Town” by USA Today in 2019.

Prior to joining the Sandusky, Eric served as Special Projects Manager to the Mayor of the City of Cleveland and as the Executive Director of Ohio City Incorporated. Eric is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Michigan Law School

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