July 2, 2008

620 Acres at Blossom Might Go to Park

By Bob Downing, The Akron Beacon Journal, Ohio

Jul. 2--A tract of 620 acres at Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls might be saved from development.

The Trust for Public Land on Tuesday announced plans to acquire the undeveloped property from the Musical Arts Association.

The land, with forests, meadows and ravines, will then be sold and transferred to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, if the needed federal or state funding can be arranged.

The Cleveland musical arts group will retain 140 acres at Blossom, the summer home of the Cleveland Orchestra, and get a cash infusion by selling off its excess acreage for a satisfactory price.

A purchase price has not been agreed on, but could be $5 million to $10 million, said Bill Carroll, director of the Ohio office of the trust, a national nonprofit land-conservation group.

The proposed deal removes the threat that the land, which is not needed by the arts group, might be sold and developed to the detriment of the 33,000-acre federal park between Akron and Cleveland.

The proposed sale would result in "a very, very favorable outcome . . . that would be the right outcome" by eliminating the threat of development on the Blossom land, said John Debo Jr., superintendent of the Cuyahoga Valley park.

Debo said he was "fairly confident" that the needed federal or state funds could be arranged to complete the deal. The land might be purchased in several separate deals over time, if the needed funds cannot be arranged at once, he said.

The proposal also will enable the musical arts association to derive needed funds from its excess land at Blossom for use by the Cleveland Orchestra, he said.

'Crucial' purchase

Carroll called the Blossom property "a crucial acquisition because of its location, natural and scenic resource significance and the likelihood of significant development if not permanently conserved.

"Through this important partnership with the National Park Service and the Musical Arts Association, we have an opportunity to ensure that it will be available for future generations to enjoy. It's a win-win situation. . . .

"We are grateful that [the Musical Arts Association] is willing to make this remarkable land available for public conservation. Our hope is that a conservation purchase can honor [its] commitment to this special area, provide critically needed parkland and allow the orchestra to maintain vital cultural programs that benefit our community."

Richard J. Bogomolny, chairman of the arts association board of trustees, said any sale of excess acreage will not affect the current Blossom operations.

"It is our intent to move forward as partners with the Trust for Public Land to ensure that funding to acquire the land is secured by the Cuyahoga Valley National Park," Bogomolny said.

News of the proposed sale drew strong support from the Cuyahoga Valley National Park Association, a friends-of-the-park group.

"Our members have expressed deep concern about protection of this land," said Deb Yandala, chief executive officer of the association. "The local community would like to see this be a win-win situation for both the national park and the Musical Arts Association. We appreciate the leadership of the Trust for Public Land in protecting this valuable piece of property for land preservation and public enjoyment."

Park-quality land

In a two-page statement, the Trust for Public Land described the 620 acres at Blossom as natural, park-quality land that is already within the Cuyahoga Valley's boundaries.

The land was purchased in the 1960s and 1970s by the Musical Arts Association in order to create Blossom Music Center.

Before a deal can can go through, the land must undergo a federal appraisal process to determine the fair-market value of the property.

The musical arts group and the trust are putting together a rough timetable for the deal, but it could take 12 to 18 months to complete, said Carroll, who works from a Cleveland office.

Funds for the purchase could be provided by Congress or other federal and state sources, he said.

Carroll said that one option being pursued is money from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which gets royalties from off-shore oil drilling.

The proposed sale is supported by the five members of Congress whose districts touch on the park, and Rep. Betty Sutton, D-Copley Township, pledged to secure the needed federal funding.

The deal also was hailed by U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Navarre, and Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown.

Carroll said federal rules prohibit the Cuyahoga Valley park from lobbying Congress or directly seeking the oil royalties from the U.S. Department of the Interior.

But the trust and the musical arts group can do such lobbying and those efforts are under way, he said.

The two groups have been in discussions about the Blossom land for more than 18 months, officials said.

The threat of a Blossom land sale surfaced publicly last April in a report by the National Parks Conservation Association, a national pro-parks group. Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or [email protected]


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