Meadville Tribune

December 31, 2013

Burned Beach Club tops reader voting in 2013 stories poll


Meadville Tribune

MEADVILLE — Concluding today, The Meadville Tribune presents the most important Crawford County-area news stories of 2013 as voted upon by you, the readers. Weeks ago, we asked readers to narrow down about 25 of the year’s stories to a top 15, and the following are the results.

Today is the top story. The stories voted Nos. 15 through 2 ran Saturday through Tuesday.

1. Beach Club burns

The loss of the iconic Beach Club sent waves of shock and outrage through the ranks of Crawford County residents still attached nostalgically and emotionally to Conneaut Lake Park when it was ravaged by a fire of unknown origin in August.

The Beach Club complex, once home to the nightclub, the Downunder Beach Bar and the Dockside, was found engulfed in flame in the early hours of Aug. 1. A boater on Conneaut Lake supposedly reported the fire at 2:19 a.m.

Several of the approximate 75 volunteer firefighters arriving on scene from nine area departments recalled seeing the fire’s ominous glow from miles away.

Despite about two hours of efforts to save the complex, the Beach Club was reduced to smoldering wreckage with investigations by area fire departments and a state police fire marshal yielding no results.

The overall cost of damages was estimated between $500,000 and $750,000.

Custody of the property was turned over to insurance investigators from Erie Insurance, believed to have written the policy on the complex.

“It’s our livelihood, but everybody from Conneaut Lake lost something,” said Joyce Popovich, who, with her husband, Steve, and business partner, Greg Sutterlin, leased and operated the Beach Club through their business, Park Restoration LLC.

Built in 1935, the Beach Club had recently been renovated by Park Restoration along with its neighboring banquet pavilion as part of ongoing efforts to revitalize Conneaut Lake Park.

Park Restoration, a company that leases the nightclub complex and the Hotel Conneaut properties from the Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park, has been operating and restoring them for more than four years.

More than $100,000 had been put into the Beach Club and Dockside between January and August, according to Park Restoration officials.

The Dockside was even reserved for numerous weddings and Christmas parties well into 2014.

In response to the loss, members from more than 80 bands in and around Crawford County worked together to organize “Rock 2 Rebuild,” a benefit concert, to restore the Beach Club.

“These people either played or visited the Beach Club at one point,” said Jason Stolarz, event co-organizer. “They all wanted to give back. All their different styles epitomize the Beach Club.”

“Rock 2 Rebuild” was dubbed a local Woodstock when it opened on Sept. 13, comprising three days of near-nonstop music on three different stages: two on the Hotel Conneaut lawn and one in Elizabeth’s restaurant in the hotel.

Organizers and participating musicians called the concert a chance for Beach Club-lovers to come together and pay tribute to more than seven decades of entertainment.

“Rock 2 Rebuild” raked in approximately $13,241, according to the event’s Facebook page, which reported growing concerns as to whether a reconstruction would ever occur.

While initial back-up plans included donations to area fire departments, the most recent updates from the page include discussions with the Trustees on a current proposal with options to either rebuild the club, pay down back property taxes to avoid foreclosure or open areas of the park that “presently sit idle and deteriorating.”

Park Restoration officials said earlier they wanted to rebuild the Beach Club as long as the Trustees agreed to several provisions.

The Popovichs and Sutterlin reported having insured the property in excess of $500,000 but declined to provide further specifics subsequently after the blaze.

Jack Moyers, chairman of the Trustees, didn’t reject the terms outright but believed the Trustees should oversee approval of specifications regarding any potential rebuild.

By mid-November, with Park Restoration-Trustee discussions pending two lawsuits filed against each other regarding leases and contractual obligations, the state Attorney General’s Office stepped in.

The office of Attorney General Kathleen Kane demanded a judge remove and reorganize the Trustees, citing failure to insure the Beach Club and the park’s historic Dreamland Ballroom, which burnt down in February 2008, as well as falling behind on more than $850,000 in property tax interest and penalties to Crawford County, Summit and Sadsbury townships and Conneaut School District.

Kane asked for an accounting of finances since 2007, when the board of trustees was appointed. Her office seeks to hold the Trustees financially responsible if found to have legally failed in their duties to properly care for Conneaut Lake Park.

The petition wants county court to compel the Trustees to show why the court should not: permanently remove all current Trustees and directors of Trustees; appoint a new board to govern the affairs of Trustees going forward; and order any other relief which the court deems appropriate.

Moyers spoke out against the petition publicly for the first time in November with a written statement, claiming the Trustees worked to preserve and maintain the park for its historical, cultural, social, recreational and civic purposes as their by-laws state.

“To allude that our actions did not strive to preserve and protect the historical asset of Conneaut Lake Park are unfounded and hurtful,” he wrote. “This board has dedicated its heart, mind and spirit to the endeavors set forth in the purpose statement of this beloved park.”

If Kane’s petition is approved in the Crawford County Court of Common Pleas, the current and former Trustees may be compelled to pay a “surcharge” of nearly $1 million.

The Trustees continue to fight the petition, claiming lack of sufficient funds to maintain insurance on the two burnt structures over the years and inheritance of a substantial tax burden prior to their appointment in 2007. They also placed blame on Park Restoration for allegedly failing to pay more than $58,327 owed in back rent and breach of contractual obligations to the Trustees. They deny any financial irregularities and ask that Kane’s petition be dismissed.

Attorneys for the Trustees and Kane are expected to meet again in court on Jan. 27.

2013 Year in Review

1. Beach Club burns — Conneaut Lake Park’s Beach Club burns down years after Dreamland Ballroom suffers same fate

2. CLP Trustees in court — Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park taken to court by Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General after allegedly failing to properly care for amusement park

3. Murder/hanging — Cambridge Springs area’s Houy hangs self in jail weeks after police say he admitted to decapitating and dehanding Union City-area’s Van Dyke

4. Guilty pleas — Cochranton-area teens Barber, Olmstead plead guilty to buried-alive murder under suspected motive of love triangle gone wrong

5. Boston bombings — Crawford County Judge Spataro crosses finish line minutes before Boston Marathon bombings

6. MARC/CAT — Community Action Team formed to help Meadville Area Recreation Complex remain open as a longtime financial supporter threatens debilitating cuts

7. Meth busts — Rash of methamphetamine busts occur in greater Meadville area over spring, summer

8. North Street construction — Businesses adjust, parade routes change as first phase of North Street Improvement Project begins

9. Blight plight — ‘Blight Report’ calls out Meadville’s most offensive properties in attempt to clean up city

10. Soccer fields fire — Crawford County Youth Soccer Association fields, equipment destroyed in fire; alleged suspects later apprehended

11. Panthers prevail — Saegertown high school wins cross country team state crown, individual wrestling state title, district championships for spring’s baseball, softball, boys volleyball

12. Most Wanted 100 — Crawford County Sheriff’s Office’s “Most Wanted” feature nabs 100th suspect

13. Jail report — Independent review of Crawford County jail questions training, pay for staff but calls prison “a very well-run facility”

14. Vernon Place — Meadville Medical Center breaks ground for multi-million dollar Vernon Place outpatient medical facilities

15. Big flood — June flood leads to manhole covers popping off storm sewers in Meadville, numerous roads closed throughout Crawford County