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Lake Erie island winery bought by Ohio ready for visitors

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MIDDLE BASS ISLAND, Ohio (AP) — A stone fortress that housed a historic winery for generations on Lake Erie's Middle Bass Island is ready for tourists following a renovation finished 17 years after the state of Ohio bought the property.

But the state still is looking for a private operator to help bring the Lonz Winery back to life.

The winery hasn't been open since the summer of 2000 when a concrete terrace collapsed and killed one man and injured 75 others.

Ohio soon bought the winery and the surrounding 120 acres, sinking $20 million into the site while building a marina and campsites to create Middle Bass Island State Park.

State officials tried without success to find private investors interested in the winery before starting renovations three years ago for an additional $6 million.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources showed off the refurbished winery last month

"This day is a long time coming," said Jim Zehringer, the department's director.

Visitors now will be able to tour the winery's cellar and see artifacts used in the wine-making process decades ago, but wine isn't being served just yet.

The state again is looking for a private operator to open a restaurant inside the spruced up building.

In the meantime, visitors can picnic or mingle on the deck.

"They have done a miraculous job of redoing this facility," said Ernie Hisey, who lives on the island part time. "Lonz Winery is a landmark. It is our identity."

The winery dates to the Civil War era while the stone structure at the site was built in the early 1940s on Middle Bass, one of the chain of Lake Erie islands that make up one of Ohio's top tourist draws.

Since the state acquired the winery, ideas for the Gothic structure ranged from turning it into a conference center to opening it as museum. But delays were brought on by cuts in state spending, administration turnover and a dreary economy.

State officials hope it will be a centerpiece of the new park.

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