By Keith Gushard
CONNEAUT LAKE PARK —
“It’s our livelihood, but everybody from Conneaut Lake lost something,” Joyce Popovich said Thursday as she looked at the smoldering remains of The Beach Club complex at Conneaut Lake Park.
Popovich, her husband, Steve Popovich and business partner Greg Sutterlin lease and operate The Beach Club, a popular nightclub, and the Downunder Beach Bar and the Dockside, a banquet facility next to the two bars.
“It’s just unbelievable,” Steve Popovich said.
Loss and disbelief were feelings expressed by others as they came to view the fire scene after word of the blaze spread early Thursday morning.
“It holds a lot of memories for me,” said Janet Traynor of Pittsburgh, who is visiting Conneaut Lake. “I’ve got an emotional attachment to its past. My family has come to Conneaut Lake for 32 years. We were in there many a time. I was impressed with the caliber of work to fix it up. I can’t believe it.”
“It’s another sad day for Conneaut Lake,” said Doris Henderson, who serves as vice president of the Conneaut Lake Area Business Association. “It was a beautiful place. I can’t believe it.”
The Popovichs and Sutterlin said they had insured the property in excess of $500,000. He declined to provide further specifics. The buildings as well as tools, supplies, tables, chairs and other items stored inside them were destroyed.
“We have insurance. We don’t know what’s going to happen at this point,” said Sutterlin.
Sutterlin and the Popovichs are the principals in Park Restoration LLC, a company that leases the Hotel Conneaut and Beach Club complex from Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park, the corporation that oversees the public trust that owns the amusement park. The Trustees do not hold insurance on the buildings. Under the teams of the lease that was Park Restoration’s responsibility.
Park Restoration has been operating and restoring the nightclub complex and the hotel properties for more than four years.
The cause of the 2:19 a.m. fire is unknown at this point, according to authorities. “We’re hoping to get in tomorrow (Friday) to do the investigation,” said Chief Gig King of Summit Township Volunteer Fire Department.
Kenneth Hamilton, a Pennsylvania State Police fire marshal, was on the scene, but Hamilton said he couldn’t start the investigation until all hot spots at the fire scene were extinguished.
Firefighters put water on smoldering areas of the site throughout the day Thursday. The buildings burned quickly and collapsed, King said. He estimated some parts of the rubble may smolder for several days. Rubble was estimated by King to be several feet deep in spots.
Eight boats docked on Conneaut Lake behind the Beach Club also sustained heat and smoke damage, King said.
No overall damage estimate was made Thursday either by authorities or Park Restoration officials.
Nine area volunteer fire departments were dispatched to the scene after the fire was reported at 2:19 a.m. by an unidentified boater on Conneaut Lake.
“Coming down (Route) 618 (from Summit Township’s fire station) all you could see was the glow,” said King, who was one of the first to arrive. “The roof was fully involved (in fire).”
King estimated about 75 firefighters were on hand at the height of the fire and it took between 90 minutes and two hours to get the fire under control.
There were two minor injuries to two firefighters — one was a health issue and the other a bee sting — but no fire injuries, King said.
Summit was assisted at the scene by Conneaut Lake, Conneaut Lake Park, East Fallowfield Township, Greenwood Township, Linesville, North Shenango Township, Vernon Central and Vernon Township as well as the Conneaut Lake Volunteer Fire Department’s fire boat.
The Beach Club, built in 1935, and the neighboring banquet pavilion recently had been renovated by Park Restoration as part of ongoing efforts to revitalize the seasonal amusement park. More than $100,000 had been put into The Beach Club and Dockside this year, according to Park Restoration officials.
Joyce Popovich said the Dockside facility had been set up Wednesday for a wedding reception Saturday. Numerous other weddings and other events like Christmas parties were scheduled for the Dockside into 2014.
“We’ll do what we have to do,” she said. “We don’t want to throw our brides into a panic.”
The park is home to the Blue Streak, one of the oldest wooden roller coasters in America, and has this week been the focus of a makeover that is being recorded by Lusid Media as part of a possible program for the Travel Channel. As part of that makeover, Lusid will unveil a new park attraction Saturday at 7 p.m. it put together with the help of volunteers. Billed as “Park After Dark,” that event, featuring live music, food vendors, will go on as scheduled.
Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.