Meadville Tribune

Local News

February 26, 2013

Lease lawsuit idle after lack of court order

MEADVILLE — A new lawsuit wants Crawford County Court of Common Pleas to order the operator of Conneaut Lake Park to sign a notarized long-term lease and management agreements with the operator of Conneaut Lake Park’s Hotel Conneaut and the Beach Club.

However, no proposed court order was attached to the civil suit filed on behalf of Park Restoration LLC in the Crawford County Prothonotary’s Office on Friday — leaving the suit idle for now.

Under local county court rules, a proposed court order is necessary by the party filing suit in order to get the item in front of one of the county’s judges. Without a proposed court order asking the court for action, the matter can’t go forward, according to officials in the prothonotary’s office.

In 2008, Park Restoration, operator of Hotel Conneaut and the Beach Club, signed long-term agreements with Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park, the private non-profit corporation that oversees the public trust that owns the amusement park, but those documents weren’t notarized, according to the lawsuit filed on behalf of Park Restoration.

Under Pennsylvania law, without signed and notarized copies, the lease documents won’t be accepted for recording by the Crawford County Recorder of Deeds Office, according to the lawsuit filed by Park Restoration.

Park Restoration didn’t have an attorney at the time of the agreement signings in 2008 and “mistakenly believed that a witnessed document could be recorded in the Recorder of Deeds Office of Crawford County,” according to the suit.

The suit claims the absence of a notary’s attestation on the agreements was either a mutual mistake by Park Restoration and the Trustees, or a mistake by Park Restoration that was known by Trustees at the time.

On July 28, 2008, Park Restoration signed a 30-year lease agreement with Trustees for operation of Hotel Conneaut, the amusement park’s hotel, according to the suit. On Nov. 24, 2008, Park Restoration signed a 20-year management agreement with Trustee for operation of the Beach Club, a night club at the park, and a 49-year commercial lease agreement for two properties known as State Route 618 Property and McClure Home Property.

In its suit, Park Restoration said the documents need to be recorded since it is involved in restoring the Hotel Conneaut, Beach Club and McClure properties. Whenever Park Restoration applies for financing, a prospective lender inquires why the agreements are not recorded, according to the suit.

Recording is needed to protect Park Restoration’s financial interests since the Conneaut Lake Park properties may be subject to a tax sale later this year for more than $850,000 in delinquent real estate taxes, according to the suit.

The suit claims Park Restoration has invested more than $1 million in renovations and restoration of the properties.

Park Restoration would “suffer irreparable harm if the property at issue is sold at a tax sale and the third party purchaser has no notice of the existence of Plaintiff’s (Park Restoration’s) leasehold interests,” the suit claims.

The suit alleges a third party purchaser of Conneaut Lake Park at a tax sale could successfully argue that it isn’t bound by any of the leases since there is no existence of them in the county’s public records.

Tribune phone and email requests for comment on the suit from Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park were unanswered Monday.

The lawsuit filing by Park Restoration is the latest salvo between Park Restoration and Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park.

Last week, officials of Park Restoration launched a public campaign claiming the board of trustees that oversees Conneaut Lake Park isn’t doing its job and needs to be replaced. The Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park has been in charge of the park since 2007.

In electronic mailings and posting on Facebook, Greg Sutterlin of Conneaut Lake and Steve Popovich of Harmonsburg of Park Restoration said, “The current board has proven to be incapable of preserving the assets of the trust. No business plan, no public meetings, no accountability and no ability to get anything done.”

In a statement emailed last week in response to the public call for the ousting of the board of trustees, Brian Pulito, attorney for Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park, said the “trustees feel it is more appropriate to handle the issues between Park Restoration and the trustees privately as they are matters of business and not public opinion.”

Pulito also said trustees still are in negotiations with Crawford County officials to resolve the amusement park’s back tax issue.

The park is a charitable public trust that was formed in 1998 with the aid of the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General. It has been under control of Crawford County Court of Common Pleas since then. The park’s 15-member board of trustees was appointed by Crawford County President Judge Anthony Vardaro in 2007.

Last week, Dennis Fisher, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, said the office was aware of the public call for the ouster of the board, but the Attorney General’s Office policy was “not to comment on matters of this nature.”

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

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