News Column

Three 'Rs' for Conneaut Lake Park's revitalization

June 26, 2014

By Keith Gushard, The Meadville Tribune, Pa.

June 26--SADSBURY TOWNSHIP -- Getting Conneaut Lake Park back on its feet is going to take time and a three-pronged strategy of reorganize, re-vision and revitalize, according to Mark Turner, executive director of the Economic Progress Alliance of Crawford County.

"It has to change," Turner told a crowd of about 175 on Wednesday night at the Conneaut Lake Park Volunteer Fire Department's fire hall during a more than two-hour meeting about a 10- to 12-year plan to revitalize the park into a public facility with an amusement park.

"The business was operating on a 10-week year," Turner continued. "That won't work. It cannot work. It needs to convert to 12 months year."

Since the Economic Progress Alliance came on board as administrator of the park on June 17, Turner said steps already are being taken to clean up the park -- from removing the guard house and screening fences to general cleanup and painting of buildings.

Debris on the beach area in the wake of last summer's Beach Club night club fire is being cleaned up and the beach will be tripled in size by the July 4 weekend, Turner said.

"There's a lot to do," Turner said, but it's all part of long-term plan to revitalize the property under the new board of Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park.

Trustees held a public meeting Wednesday to spell out a proposed long-range plan for redevelop Conneaut Lake Park into a year-round facility as well as repay more than $900,000 in back real estate taxes that are owed to Crawford County, Conneaut School District and Sadsbury and Summit townships.

Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park is the nonprofit corporation that owns the 122-year-old amusement park, while EPACC is the county's lead economic development agency. At its meeting June 17, the new board of Trustees unanimously approved an administrative agreement with EPACC to oversee amusement park operations and appointed Turner executive director of Conneaut Lake Park with no additional pay.

The new board of Trustees replaced the previous seven-member Trustees board who resigned June 12 as part of a consent decree approved by Crawford Court of Common Pleas. The consent decree also approved the appointment of a new board of Trustees agreed to by the Attorney General's Office.

Turner laid out plans to transform Conneaut Lake Park into a year-round park with a performing arts center, exposition center and hotel with a rebuilt night club and midway. It's estimated to have a total cost of $12 million to $15 million.

"It's not overly aggressive and it's not as challenging as you might think," Turner said when that cost is spread out over a 10- to 12-year period.

However, Turner also cautioned "it's not going to happen instantaneously. I think it's doable, but that doesn't guarantee success."

For the long-range plan, Turner said the goal would be to seek developers nationally who would develop the property under long-term leases granted by the Trustees.

The developers would have to have a proven track record and a long-term commitment, he said. "We would want the vendors and leasees to be successful."

The idea is to modernize the park into a year-round public facility with an amusement park.

"We're not going to turn our back on the amusement park or on the Blue Streak," Turner said of the park's famed wooden roller coaster. "It's iconic."

But before long-term development can take major steps forward, the park's overdue property tax issue must be resolved, Turner said.

At its public meeting June 17, the new Trustee board unanimously approved an EPACC proposal to repay $914,237.69 in overdue property taxes that Conneaut Lake Park owes within four years.

The EPACC's tax repayment agreement -- which needs to be approved by Conneaut School District, Crawford County and Sadsbury and Summit townships -- calls for $100,000 down at the time of the agreement and the use of the insurance payout, about $600,000, from the 2013 Beach Club fire. The remainder will be paid from the possible sale of excess Conneaut Lake Park property.

Crawford County commissioners have stated publicly that Conneaut Lake Park will be sold for back taxes on Sept. 26 unless they are formally presented with an acceptable plan to repay the overdue taxes. The possibility of a sheriff's sale is also an option, commissioners said.

Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at kgushard@meadvilletribune.com.

Public responds to plan

By Keith Gushard

meadville tribune

SADSBURY TOWNSHIP -- Public reaction on Wednesday to a proposed long-range redevelopment plan for Conneaut Lake Park was generally positive.

About 175 people were on hand at Conneaut Lake Park Volunteer Fire Department's fire hall for the proposal outlined by the Economic Progress Alliance of Crawford County. The EPACC, the county's lead economic development agency, has been named administrator of the amusement park by Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park, the private nonprofit corporation that owns the amusement park.

Plans call for redevelopment of the amusement park into a year-round public park and entertainment facility with an amusement park. The plan would take an estimated 10 to 12 years and may cost $12 million to $15 million.

"It's the best plan the park has had in the last 20 years," said Dave Cole of New Castle, who has a summer residence in the Conneaut Lake area. "We need to brighten and prepare Conneaut Lake Park to get it back on the map."

Ed Yates of Conneaut Lake was cautiously optimistic.

"It will be 10 to 12 years and that's beyond my scope because I'm 71, but my grandchildren may see it," said Yates, who is a member of the Conneaut Lake Development Committee, a community committee trying to revitalize the nearby borough of Conneaut Lake. "It's not a pie-in-the-sky plan, but it will be a long-term concept."

Jim Herchenroether of Conneaut Lake agreed.

"It is a plan that's going to take time," he said.

Linda Watkins of Stoneboro, who spends a lot of weekends boating on Conneaut Lake, was pleased with the plan.

"I think it's a viable option," she said. "I think the majority of people are ready to get behind it."

___

(c)2014 The Meadville Tribune (Meadville, Pa.)

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Source: Meadville Tribune (PA)


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