By Keith Gushard
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.”
Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Time for a change at Conneaut Lake Park?
Editor’s note: The following is a letter submitted to the Tribune by Greg Sutterlin of Conneaut Lake and Steve Popovich of Harmonsburg, both of Park Restoration LLC, which leases and operates the Hotel Conneaut and the Beach Club.
In 2009, two families with common ties to Conneaut Lake Park started on a quest to preserve a Historic gem and formed Park Restoration LLC. Since then, our company has reopened the Hotel Conneaut and Beach Club and has begun multi-year restoration projects. The hotel is now host to countless weddings, graduation parties and reunions. The Beach Club beams with the best live entertainment that used to rock the lake in clays gone by. The outdoor concerts, polka fests and holiday light shows now draw crowds that fill this marvelous lakeside destination. The lake area is full of life and activity with people returning to make a memory; while they relive the ones of their youth.
In the park ride area, things, however, are not the same. The park is lined with abandoned buildings, fire-damaged structures, root-lined walkways and is truly a depressing experience. The Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park board lease the park area as it exists without any plan or direction since the onset of the current board, and it has been in total disarray. In the last four-plus years, the current board has utilized carnival vendors to operate the park. While some faired better than others in their ability to attract crowds, they all share similarly in their lack of interest to make any park improvements. The lack of a plan for the park area is showing sorely as buildings are literally rotting and falling to the ground, tree roots grow through the midway, and there is no interest or plan by this board to make improvements and attract new business to the area. Now, there are threats of tax foreclosure as the current board does not pay property taxes.
The board for the Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park were put in place to preserve the assets of the trust.
Are they getting the job clone?
So we ask ...
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the water park were open on a hot 90 degree day? Or if the jungle cruise were open with a petting zoo? What if you could stroll through the midway without fear of tripping on a tree root? Or hide under a large arched roof that covered the entire midway, should it start to rain?
What if the entire midway was redone with new building facades, plantings and bright fun colors? What if the ultimate trip building were rebuilt into a entertainment center for all ages? What if the fire-damaged bathrooms in Kiddyland were rebuilt? What if ... any of these actual proposals presented to the park board by our company, Park Restoration, and all rejected, were accepted?
Would you want to bring your friends and family? Could the additional revenue generated by the board now be used to pay the taxes? So, we ask why ... why were they all rejected? Why is it a better plan to let the assets of the park sit idle and rot to the ground while bills are not being paid?
Our families entered into long-term agreements for the Hotel Conneaut and Beach Club and are getting things done along the lake. But, that’s only part of our interest. We want to see the park up and running and drawing the crowds it used to in days gone by. It is possible? And we understand the public frustration; this is why we are asking for your help and support. Look what we have done with the hotel and the Beach Club/Dockside. Just think what could be clone with the park. We don’t want it torn down to put condos in its place. Why? So they can put boats on an already overpopulated lake? We need the families and vacation goers to come in and spend the money in our town, supporting the local business. A positive future is possible; we just need your support.
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. 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. While the Hotel Conneaut and Beach Club are becoming bright and shiny with all their new renovations, it is not a true park without the rides.
We want the rides to stay and we need your help!
If you feel the board should be replaced by members willing and capable of getting the job done, send us an email or letter and tell us your story of your love for the park and what are your opinions about its current condition.
Although the board does not feel they are accountable to anyone, they are, and it’s time for a change.
Please email your letters to email@example.com or mail them to Hotel Conneaut, 12441 Lake St., Conneaut Lake, PA 16316.