TOLEDO (AP) -- Towering over the shores of Middle Bass Island, the landmark stone fortress that housed a historic winery for generations still sits empty, awaiting its rebirth.
The winery, bought by the state nearly 14 years ago after a deadly terrace collapse, was to be the anchor of a new destination park on the chain of Lake Erie islands that make up one of Ohio's top tourist draws.
Although Ohio's Department of Natural Resources has added a marina, 20 primitive campsites and a few other improvements, plans to renovate the former Lonz Winery are just getting off the ground.
Ideas for turning the Gothic structure into a conference center, restaurant or museum have been delayed over the past decade by cuts in state spending, administration turnover and a dreary economy. At the same time, the building on the National Register of Historic Places was taken over by weeds and raccoons.
"It's really sad how dilapidated it has become. It was almost like they bought it and forgot it," said Jennifer Oetting, who owns a summer home along with a few rental units. She hopes more tourists will come once the park is complete.
So far, the state has spent $20 million to buy and fix up the island property and is putting an additional $6 million toward shoring up the winery. It's now removing asbestos and stabilizing the main building and renovating the home of the winery's former owner.
State officials hope the work will attract a private developer who will help Ohio's parks department come up with a plan for the site.
Ohio bought the winery and the surrounding 120 acres for nearly $7 million with plans to create a state park with cottages, hiking trails and a fishing pier. But little happened in the first few years, and since then, the focus has been on opening the marina, cleaning up the campgrounds and adding sewer and water service.
"I've heard people say they better do something with the winery, but they don't understand all the requirements, laws and regulations that we need to abide by," said Steve Riddle, who manages the state parks in the islands region and grew up on Middle Bass.
That includes dealing with endangered snakes at the marina and hazardous materials in the winery that dates back to the Civil War era. The stone structure at the site was built in the early 1940s.
Riddle's father once gave tours at the winery, which was the island's top attraction until July 2000, when a concrete patio buckled and dropped revelers into an empty cellar, killing one man and injuring 75 others.
The state is committed to making sure restoring the winery moves forward, Riddle said, but he also hopes whatever comes fits the island, a quieter cousin of neighboring South Bass Island, which draws 1 million visitors each year to the rowdy resort town of Put-in-Bay.
The new marina at Middle Bass, which opened three years ago, has brought in boaters who stay overnight at the docks and then visit the other islands during the day, he said.
The campground, which doesn't allow trailers, has had just 1,100 reservations since 2009. "Not a lot of people know about it," Riddle said.
George Weisenbach, who has lived on the island for 35 years, said he understands that developing the park takes time. He thinks the marina is one of the nicest on the lake.
He's pleased that state officials have moved cautiously while taking into account the input of those on the island. They've scheduled another meeting to solicit ideas for the winery on Tuesday at the area's visitor center in Port Clinton.
"People would love to see it come back at it was," he said. "What we'd all like to see is the winery get some money spent on it before it falls down. It's in bad shape."
Roman Sapecki, who owns a summer home on Middle Bass, said the winery building has charm that can't be duplicated.
"Given all the possibilities of what could have happened, I think it's in good hands," he said. "We could have had private money come in quickly and changed the entire dynamic of the island."