Meadville Tribune

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February 21, 2013

Hotel, club operators: Oust park trustees

MEADVILLE — Operators of Conneaut Lake Park’s Hotel Conneaut and the Beach Club claim the board of trustees that oversees operations of the amusement park isn’t doing its job and needs to be replaced.

The 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.

In electronic mailings and posting on Facebook, the Internet social media site, Greg Sutterlin of Conneaut Lake and Steve Popovich of Harmonsburg 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.”

“The goal is to have the trustees removed,” Sutterlin said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “Until that happens, we’re not going to stop.”

Sutterlin and 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.

However, according to Sutterlin, the volunteer trustees are not properly maintaining or improving the 121-year-old amusement park or paying both current and delinquent real estate taxes.

Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park, responding through an email from its attorney Brian Pulito to the Tribune, said “While Mr. Sutterlin prefers to take these matters to the public, 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.”

The issue of overdue taxes also is being addressed, Pulito said in the brief email statement.

“In the meantime, the trustees continue to work with county officials in working the kinks out of the plans that address the taxes. This too, at this juncture, is ‘in negotiation’ and therefore the details cannot be divulged at this time.”

Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park has been in negotiations on a plan toward repayment of hundreds of thousands in back taxes to area governments, but the amusement park’s real estate may be sold for back taxes at the county’s annual tax delinquency sale in September.

As of mid-January, Conneaut Lake Park owed a total of $856,212.77 in back taxes and interest to the Crawford County, Conneaut School District and Sadsbury and Summit townships, and dating back to 1997, according to the Crawford County Treasurer’s Office.

County commissioners have raised the specter of having the park go to tax sale if a tax plan isn’t resolved.

Sutterlin also said the board of trustees additionally has been secretive about park operations and finances.

“Before park buildings deteriorate beyond repair and before a tax sale is ever considered, it’s time to save the park and remove the current board of trustees for a breach in their fiduciary duties,” Sutterlin said in a posting on the Hotel Conneaut’s Facebook page and in electronic mailings.

Those electronic mailings went out to “a couple of thousand people” Tuesday night and already have started generating responses, Sutterlin said.

“People are disappointed with the progress and are upset with the board,” Sutterlin said. “What’s bringing this to a head is the potential for tax foreclosure.”

Sutterlin is asking people to write letters supporting the call for trustees’ removal. He said he plans to forward the letters to the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General.

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.

Dennis Fisher, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, said the office was aware of the situation, but policy is “not to comment on matters of this nature.”

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