News Column

Conneaut Lake Park 'real economic development opportunity'

June 18, 2014

By Valerie Myers, Erie Times-News, Pa.



June 18--MEADVILLE -- The Economic Progress Alliance of Crawford County has major hurdles to clear to revitalize Conneaut Lake Park.

First, it needs to persuade county, school and municipal creditors to wait four more years for more than $900,000 in back taxes owed to them by the park.

Simultaneously, it needs to invest in the park to make it clean, safe and inviting.

Next it needs to sell off some portions of the property to pay off some of the park's debt.

Then it must sell public and private investors on rebuilding the Beach Club and building a new Dreamland exposition center, performing arts center and an outdoor plaza for car shows and other events.

The total project would cost between $10 million and $15 million and take about a decade to complete, said Mark Turner, executive director of the Economic Progress Alliance. The redevelopment agency hopes to guide the revitalization with authority from the park's newly appointed trustees.

"If we're going to do this, step one is a tax agreement," Turner told Crawford County commissioners Tuesday. "If the taxing authorities' attitude is, 'We want our money now,' I completely appreciate that. They have been patient a long time. But we would be missing a real economic development opportunity if we don't do this."

The park is scheduled for tax sale in September. It alternatively could be sold at a sheriff sale to satisfy the tax debt.

Turner said a revitalized park would pump "tens of millions of dollars" into the local economy by hosting conferences, performances, expositions and other events year-round.

"One reason why the park has failed over the years is that it's been dependent on a 10-week season," Turner said. "It needs to be in operation 12 months of the year and not be so weather-dependent. De-seasonalizing Conneaut Lake Park will be a major change in its business model."

The park has lost money each of its last 17 seasons, Turner said.

The Economic Progress Alliance proposes to pay the park's back taxes beginning with a $100,000 down payment from an insurance policy that protected former park trustees in their role as overseers. Trustees resigned earlier this month as part of a settlement agreement with the state Attorney General's Office.

The Attorney General's Office had petitioned Crawford County Court to remove trustees for failing to protect the park, specifically by failing to insure park assets. Representatives of the Economic Progress Alliance are among new trustees appointed by the court.

Additional payments on the tax debt could come from an insurance settlement on the Beach Club, which burned to the ground in August. The insurance premiums were paid by a private partnership that operated the club, but the payout may be due to the park as property owner. A court will make that determination, Turner said.

The final installment toward back taxes would come from the sale of property "not integral" to park development plans, Turner said. That property could include a lakefront parcel where a home once stood. The home burned down some years ago.

The repayment plan and park revitalization plans are "doable," Turner said.

"We have confidence that we can do these things, but there are obstacles, challenges and issues we have to address," Turner said.

County commissioners will discuss the alliance's plans for the park with school and township officials, and will decide if they're willing to remove the park from the fall tax sale.

"We'll have to go back to the drawing board and see what they want to do," Commissioner Sherman Allen said. "We have some homework to do."

If the park is sold, it will most likely be to a private developer, Turner said.

"And it would be a real opportunity missed," he said.

The alliance has begun removing rubble from the former Beach Club and has hired painters to spruce up the park.

"The park right now is blighted. We need to make it safe and clean for the public coming to events there and enjoying the amusement park," Turner said.

VALERIE MYERS can be reached at 878-1913 or by e-mail. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/ETNmyers.

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(c)2014 the Erie Times-News (Erie, Pa.)

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Source: Erie Times-News (PA)


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