Gensler unveils vision for cleaned-up and redeveloped coal-fired power plant site near Cleveland

Breath of Fresh Air

Gensler unveils vision for cleaned-up and redeveloped coal-fired power plant site near Cleveland

Long defined by its dirty power plant, the city of Avon Lake, Ohio, is looking to turn a site of environmental degradation into a place of economic opportunity and lakefront recreation. (Courtesy Gensler, ALERG, Avison Young)

While its towering stacks will be left standing, a newly unveiled vision for Ohio’s historic Avon Lake Generating Station site, home to a hulking coal-fired power plant first opened in 1926 by the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company at the cost of $30 million, offers a radical departure from how most longtime Cleveland-area residents have viewed and interacted with the pollution-spewing property along the shore of Lake Erie.

Earlier this week, a team comprised of Gensler, Avon Lake Environmental Redevelopment Group (ALERG), the City of Avon Lake, and commercial real estate firm Avison Young presented initial redevelopment plans—and a batch of fresh renderings—for the 40-acre site at an inaugural public meeting seeking community feedback. The transformative overhaul encompasses the 100-year-old generation station, which shut down this April after its closure was postponed, along with a slew of buildings housing administrative offices, substation/switch gear and transformer, submerged lands lease in Lake Eerie, and adjacent coal rail and storage yards.

aerial view of a power plant redevelopment project on a lake
Aerial view of the redevelopment site looking southwest. (Courtesy Gensler, ALERG, Avison Young)

Charah Solutions, parent company of ALERG, completed its acquisition of the site in April from the plant’s most recent operator, Atlanta-headquartered GenOn Energy Holdings. Immediately following its takeover of the site, ALERG commenced demolition and environmental remediation work as mandated in the acquisition agreement. The company is also responsible for the shutdown and decommissioning of the plant.

As noted in a press release shared by Gensler, the redevelopment of the famously befouled site is a “generational opportunity to reframe the former coal-fired power plant site into a regional attraction while restoring the lakefront ecosystem.”

concept plan for an old power plant site
(Courtesy Gensler, ALERG, Avison Young)

While the ambitious redevelopment proposal is very much in the early stages, the scheme, which envisions large swaths of public parkland with the potential for retail, creative office, and even residential space spread throughout the cleaned-up complex, is guided by five core principles that will help to inform the revitalization of the site:

  • Create a new vision for the City of Avon Lake
  • Create an accessible public realm along the lakefront
  • Extend the City of Avon Lake to the waterfront
  • Utilize an eco-friendly adaptive design strategy
  • Explore the option of an adaptive reuse of the historic turbine hall and transformer building

As mentioned above, the adaptive reuse of the plant’s historic structures plays a key role in the vision. The turbine hall, for example, would be converted into a landmark office building with a parking garage tucked beneath. As for the lakefront, the initial proposal calls for a string of public amenities including a picnic lawn, children’s play area, ecological park, and a beach flanked by amphitheater-style seating.

rendering of a beachfront area near a power plant
(Courtesy Gensler, ALERG, Avison Young)
a gathering area at a power plant-turned-park
(Courtesy Gensler, ALERG, Avison Young)

“With the decommissioning of the coal-fired power plant on site, there is an opportunity for Avon Lake to reinvent itself for the 21st Century,” elaborated Andre Brumfield, a Chicago-based Gensler principal and leader of the global design firm’s Global Cities + Urban Design practice. “The size of this site offers a significant redevelopment opportunity to further bolster the economic and social heart of the city and its surrounding communities. Most critically, the vision for the site will connect the City of Avon Lake back to the shorelines of Lake Erie. The primary driver of this effort is to create a new public realm along the lakefront that will serve as a catalyst for new development and create a regional destination for Greater Cleveland and a new identity for Avon Lake.”

Located roughly 17 miles west of Cleveland in Lorain County, Avon Lake and its residents were plagued for decades by air pollution emitted by its namesake power plant, which was once considered among the dirtiest facilities of its kind in the nation and for several years was out of compliance with the Clean Air Act.  Per a 2016 article in The World, Lorain County has some of the highest asthma rates in Ohio. The county By retiring the facility, an estimated half-million annual tons of CO2 have been prevented from entering the atmosphere.

Avon Lake Mayor Greg Zilka referred to the proposed redevelopment of the site as a “pivotal moment for the city.”

aerial view of a power plant redevelopment project on a lake
Aerial view of the redevelopment site looking southeast (Courtesy Gensler, ALERG, Avison Young)

“We aim to revitalize the lakefront, connect the city to Lake Erie, and create the largest open space and public lakefront project that our region has seen in decades while serving as a catalyst for economic growth,” he added.

As for a project timeline, that remains uncertain as site remediation must be completed before any development work gets underway—no small task considering the redevelopment zone’s century-long history of environmental degradation. reported Zilka as explaining during the public meeting: “A great deal of mitigation, elimination of the pollutants […] needs to occur. The important thing, it eventually will be accomplished. Will this be developed in five years, 10 years, 15, maybe 20? But it will be done.”