Meadville Tribune

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July 11, 2014

Supporters rally, plan fundraisers to save Conneaut Lake Park

SUMMIT TOWNSHIP — While the taxing bodies that hold the future of Conneaut Lake Park in their hands may meet to discuss a proposed sheriff’s sale or tax sale, supporters of the park are planning fundraisers and volunteer work projects to make the park more attractive.

Leonard Adams, who leases the amusement rides at Conneaut Lake Park, spoke at a rally Thursday afternoon that was attended by approximately 80 people. The rally outlined plans supporters have made to show their interest in saving the park.

The amusement park owes Conneaut School District, Crawford County and the townships of Summit and Sadsbury a combined $917,874.87 in back property taxes, interest and penalties dating back to 1997, according to the Crawford County Treasurer’s Office.

The townships and school district have recently indicated their interest in a sheriff’s sale, while at least Sadsbury Township and Conneaut School District are welcome to listen a proposal by the Economic Progress Alliance of Crawford County, which says it has a plan to repay the taxes within four years. The EPACC is the county’s lead economic development agency.

Adams said fundraisers are being scheduled, starting with a movie night at the Park Avenue Cinemas in Meadville. No date has been set, but it will be a Monday night and tickets will be $5 with all proceeds to go toward the back taxes at the park, Adams said. Other ideas include golf and bowling events.

Also, a special “Blast from the Past” event is planned for July 19 and 20 at the park, Adams said. The event may include games, entertainment, and displays and information from Geauga Lake in Ohio, a traditional amusement park which closed down in 2007, turning the property into solely as a water park, beginning in the 2008 season.

Adams said anyone with more ideas is asked to contact him at the park at 382-5115.

While these fundraisers may not make much of a dent in the money owed in back taxes, supporters want the municipalities to know how much support is out there — and that supporters are willing to work.

Conneaut Lake Green Thumbs group will plant flowers at the park on Saturday as part of a new initiative at the park. The session begins at 9 a.m. Those attending are asked to take shovels, gloves, watering cans and other gardening materials for the project. Flowers have been donated, and hanging baskets already have been set in place to beautify the area.

Adams had a petition that included more than 1,700 names of people who are in support of the EPACC’s plan.

Adams said the petition has been circulated for only a few days and is still available to be signed. Most of those who signed are area taxpayers, according to Adams. Adams said the opinions of those who don’t reside in park’s vicinity may not seem important to some, but it is to local businesses because they “come up here and spend money.”

Adams said the vote Wednesday evening by Conneaut School Board to proceed with a sheriff’s sale is “definitely a serious threat,” but the board is willing to meet with the other three taxing bodies and EPACC to listen to the EPACC’s plan. Not date has been announced for the possible meeting.

Several people at Thursday’s rally mentioned how disappointed they were that Conneaut School Board had gone ahead with the vote without having heard first-hand the proposal from the EPACC. Others noted they came to Conneaut Lake as a visitor years ago, stayed her during the summer, purchased cottages and now live there.

Carol Nader of Conneaut Lake said she was concerned for the small business owners in the area if the park goes for sheriff’s sale or is closed.

“There’s too many little businesses whose livelihood depends on the park,” she said.

Adams also noted that of the more than $900,000 owned in back taxes, interest and penalties, about $450,000 of it is penalties and interest. He said if anyone knows of any government entity which has forgiven such interest and penalties, it would be important to know because it would be a precedent for the county commissioners to review.

While the EPACC continues to help improve the park, an appeal for state intervention or filing for bankruptcy are possible options for Conneaut Lake Park to halt a possible sheriff’s sale or tax sale for overdue property taxes. Earlier this week, Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park’s board authorized Mark Turner, its executive director, to find out if intervention by the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General would be considered to halt a possible sale. Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park is the nonprofit corporation that oversees the public trust that owns the amusement park.

Turner, who did not attend the rally, said it is good to see the effort of the park’s supporters. He encouraged them to continue to let their opinions be known.

What to watch for next

A special meeting of people who have leases on property inside or outside the gates at Conneaut Lake Park is Saturday at 11 a.m. at the fun deck at the park. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss what options these property owners would have if the park’s assets — which include the leases — are sold at sheriff’s sale.

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