News Column

Conneaut plan for use as year-round entertainment destination laden with 'ifs'

June 25, 2014

By Bill Vidonic, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

June 25--If the financially troubled Conneaut Lake Park is to survive, it must transform itself from a summer attraction into a year-round destination, the head of the Economic Progress Alliance of Crawford County said on Tuesday.

Making the vintage amusement park a public events venue and amusement park would take about 10 years and cost $10 million to $20 million in public and private money, said the alliance's executive director, Mark Turner.

The "elephant in the room" hampering any development plans, he acknowledged, remains a $910,000 tax bill owed to the county, municipalities and Conneaut School District. The park could be sold for back taxes on Sept. 26 or after.

Proposed changes include the construction of a performing arts center, an exposition center and a new beach club. The long-dormant waterpark would be removed, Turner said, and the amusement park, which houses the historic Blue Streak roller coaster, would be upgraded. A camper area would be expanded.

"We've talked to companies in the area that are trying to recruit (workers from Pittsburgh), and they said there's no place to take their families. There's blight in Conneaut Lake Park. No one is using the park, and why would they?

"But we think we can turn that around," Turner said.

The alliance is taking over park operations from the board of trustees, which resigned June 12 under a consent decree with the state Attorney General's Office.

The attorney general's office claimed that the board failed to oversee the park and manage its finances, including not insuring the park's ballroom and beach club, which were destroyed in a fire last August.

Turner's agency is recommending an upfront, $100,000 payment of back taxes, and then paying off the balance within four years.

"I think it's doable, but we'll have to see how patient the taxing authorities are right now," Turner said.

In May, the Conneaut School Board voted 8-0 for its solicitor to file legal paperwork to begin the process of a sheriff's sale. The district is owed about $600,000, solicitor George Joseph said.

"I don't think the board has foreclosed any discussion," Joseph said. "However, I think the proposals fall far short of what is really necessary to consider it to be a serious proposal."

Even if the alliance paid $100,000 from insurance covering the former trustees and another $600,000 of insurance proceeds from the fire, the amount still is far short of what's owed to the taxing bodies, Joseph said.

A county judge also has to decide who receives the insurance money.

"I think the board considers a plan to pay over four years, when the taxes have been delinquent nearly 20 years, to be unreasonable to the other taxpayers of the district who have paid their taxes in a timely manner," Joseph said.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or


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Source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (PA)

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