Meadville Tribune

May 3, 2013

Operators not 'amused' by Conneaut Lake Park's finances

By Keith Gushard
Meadville Tribune

MEADVILLE — While a plan has yet to come forward on how Conneaut Lake Park will resolve hundreds of thousands in back taxes owed to area governments, business operators at the amusement park worry about the potential fallout from negative publicity about the lack of a repayment plan.

“I have to know what’s going on so I can plan on my next investment,” Leonard Adams, owner of Adams Amusements, said Thursday.

Adams Amusements has a lease with Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park to operate rides at the amusement park. “I’ve put in more than a half million dollars in the last three years,” Adams said.

Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park is a corporation that oversees the public trust that owns the 121-year-old amusement park in western Crawford County. It has been in charge of the park since 2007.

As of Tuesday, Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park owes $877,168.24 in back taxes and interest to the Crawford County, Conneaut School District and Sadsbury and Summit townships, according to figures from the Crawford County Treasurer’s Office. The overdue taxes and interest date back to 1997, according to the Treasurer’s Office.

All three Crawford County commissioners, Francis Weiderspahn Jr., Jack Lynch and C. Sherman Allen, have said a plan needs to be presented or the park’s real estate may be sold for back taxes at the annual tax delinquency sale in September.

At the April 18 meeting of Crawford County Board of Commissioners, Ted Watts, the county’s attorney, said negotiations were continuing with Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park on the tax issue and a plan possibly could be presented at the commissioners’ May 2 meeting. No such plan from Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park was presented at the commissioners’ meeting Thursday.

Questioned following Thursday’s meeting, both the commissioners and Watts said nothing has been put forth by the Trustees.

“I’ve got nothing,” Weiderspahn, chairman of commissioners, said.

“I’ve not received anything,” Watts said.

It’s that lack of a repayment plan from Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park and the threat of a delinquent tax sale that trouble businesses that lease at the amusement park.

 “I’m really in the dark,” Adams said, noting he plans to be ready when the amusement park opens for the season on May 24, the Friday before Memorial Day. Adams said he plans to operate all season.

Greg Sutterlin, a principal in Park Restoration LLC, is also unsettled about the lack of a tax repayment plan from Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park.

“I’m definitely concerned over the negative aspects of Trustees not paying the taxes,” Sutterlin said Thursday.

Sutterlin and Steve Popovich are the principals in Park Restoration LLC, which operates the Hotel Conneaut and Beach Club nightclub under a lease agreement with the trustees. Park Restoration has been operating and restoring the two properties for more than four years.

“Short-term, not paying the debt is creating an amount of negative publicity,” Sutterlin said. “Long-term, it may be a positive for us because we’d get new leases and a new landlord.”

Park Restoration LLC has submitted a proposal to Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park to have Park Restoration not only pay real estate taxes for the entire amusement park property, but also reopen several other areas including the water park, the Jungle Cruise area, the building hosing the Ultimate Trip ride and the park’s convention hall, Sutterlin said.

“That would bring in additional revenue and help repay the taxes,” Sutterlin said.

“We have issues we’re still trying to work out,” Brian Pulito, attorney for Trustees of Conneaut Lake, said Thursday. “We’re trying to figure out how to address them so we can present a unified front (on the back tax issue).”

One issue is resolution of a lawsuit over long-term lease agreement between Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park and Park Restoration, Pulito said. He refused to elaborate what other issues remain between Park Restoration and Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park.

In Feburary, Park Restoration filed suit against Trustees of Coinneaut Lake Park in Crawford County Court of Common Pleas over the long-term lease matter.

The lawsuit by Park Restoration claims that in 2008 Park Restoration signed long-term lease agreements with Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park for both the Hotel Conneaut and Beach Club, but those documents weren’t notarized.

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.

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.

 In its suit, Park Restoration claims 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.

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

A proper 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.

Weiderspahn, chairman of county commissioners, said Thursday a delinquent real estate tax sale of the Conneaut Lake Park properties could happen this year.

“We have until August to decide,” Weiderspahn said of putting the Conneaut Lake Park properties on the annual delinquent tax sale in September. “As far as I’m concerned, that’s certainly a possibility.”



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



Did you know?

Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park is a charitable public trust that was formed in 1998 with the aid of the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General. The park was 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.