By Keith Gushard
If the Conneaut Lake Pumpkin Fest is not held this year it would financially devastate not only the Conneaut Lake area, but all of Crawford County, according to officials of Conneaut Lake Area Business Association and Crawford County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
At Tuesday’s weekly work session of county commissioners, tourism officials said Ghost Lake, a haunted Halloween festival, and Pumpkin Fest both held in October at Conneaut Lake Park have an estimated impact of almost $6 million on the local economy.
However, Conneaut Lake Park is scheduled to be sold for back property taxes at the county’s annual September tax upset sale since the amusement park owes more than $750,000 to various municipal governments. This year’s tax sale is scheduled for Sept. 26 — two weeks before Pumpkin Fest 2014 would begin.
Officials want county commissioners to postpone the tax sale until after both the Pumpkin Fest and Ghost Lake are completed this year, citing the economic impact.
Commissioners Francis Weiderspahn Jr. and C. Sherman Allen took no action on the matter Tuesday but said they are researching whether the sale date may be moved. Commissioner Jack Lynch was absent from Tuesday’s work session.
Commissioners said Tuesday preparations are continuing for the planned sale of the amusement park for back taxes continue. Chairman Weiderspahn said Ted Watts, the county’s attorney, is consulting with Weiss Burkardt and Kramer LLC, the Pittsburgh law firm it hired, to see if the tax sale date may be changed.
Based on Pennsylvania’s Tourism Economic Report for 2012, the average spent per person per trip was $111 for the day-trip leisure traveler, according to Juanita Hampton, executive director of the Crawford County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Using the $111 per person figure and attendance figure of 31,000 for Pumpkin Fest, that’s equal to $3,441,000 spent in the area. While using the same $111 figure and 23,000 for attendance at Ghost Lake, another $2,553,000 is added in spending by tourists. That leads to an estimated total of $5,994,000 between the two October events at the park.
Joan Kozlowsky, a co-chair of the Pumpkin Fest, said festival personnel can’t sign contracts with vendors since the situation is up in the air and people are asking if there will be a Pumpkin Fest.
“It’s a negative impact,” she said.
If Pumpkin Fest isn’t able to be held, it would be hard to attract visitors back to the area because of public perception, she believes.
“Once they think you’re closed, they’re off to some place else,” Kozlowsky said.
Dominic Baragona of Mid-America Events of Niles, Ohio, which puts on Ghost Lake, said he hopes the sale can be postponed until November.
“It’s the uncertainty,” he said. “You’ve got to plan events this large — Pumpkin Fest and Ghost Lake — at least a year in advance.”
Last year, commissioners announced plans to move forward with the tax sale, but the sale wouldn’t happen until at least September 2014 due to the number of properties and complexities involved with the amusement park.
As of Dec. 31, 2013, a total of $752,692.77 in overdue property taxes, interest and penalties was owed to the county, Summit and Sadsbury townships, and Conneaut School District by Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park — dating back to 1997, according to figures from the Crawford County Treasurer’s Office.
Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park is a corporation that oversees the public trust that owns the park. Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park has been in charge of the park since 2007.