Meadville Tribune

Local News

December 5, 2013

Hotel Conneaut operators offer debt relief, crowd-drawing ideas

MEADVILLE — The operators of the Hotel Conneaut are hoping to get support for a plan they say will address the property tax debt of Conneaut Lake Park and attract more people to the amusement park.

However, moving the plan forward will require approvals from a number of local governing bodies, the state and the park’s current management board, if the plan is deemed legal,

The proposal by Park Restoration LLC would use $480,000 in fire insurance proceeds from the Aug. 1, 2012, fire at the Beach Club to rebuild the nightclub, pay down tax debt and reopen the closed water park and convention hall. The complex deal would give Park Restoration management of new areas of the park, sets payments to the park’s management board and would freeze the property tax assessment in some areas in the park at current levels for set periods of time. It even draws in Park Restoration’s interest in nearby property currently held by the county.

“We put it out 10 days ago,” Greg Sutterlin, one of the principals in Park Restoration LLC, confirmed to the Tribune Wednesday.

Park Restoration operates the Hotel Conneaut and Beach Club nightclub under a lease agreement with the Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park. Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park is the corporation that oversees the public trust that owns the amusement park.

Park Restoration had the fire insurance policy on the Beach Club property. The Trustees did not.

“We’d loan the money to the Trustees to pay down the back debt,” Sutterlin said. “We’d open up some of the other areas — the water park and the convention hall — to generate more revenue.”

Looming over the proposal is the amusement park’s outstanding property tax debt.

In May, the Crawford County Board of Commissioners said it will put into motion plans to have Conneaut Lake Park sold for overdue property taxes. A total of more than $850,000 in overdue property taxes, interest and penalties is owed to the county, Summit and Sadsbury townships and Conneaut School District. All of those bodies would have to approve the plan.

Sutterlin said he submitted the proposal to the Summit Township Board of Supervisors at its meeting this week and is setting up a meeting with county officials next week.

“We’re willing to listen to what they have to say,” Francis Weiderspahn Jr., county commission chairman, said Wednesday.

Weiderspahn confirmed a meeting with Park Restoration officials, himself, county Treasurer Christine Krzysiak and Ted Watts, the county’s attorney is scheduled.

Weiderspahn cautioned, though, the county can’t make an agreement with anyone other than Trustees “because they own the property.”

Jack Moyers, chairman of Trustees, confirmed Trustees  has a meeting planned with Park Restoration, but he, too, was cautious.

“There are a lot of assumptions in their proposal at this point,” Moyers said of Park Restoration’s offer. “There are also a lot of contingencies on multiple agencies agreeing.”

The Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General would have to agree as well since the property is held as a public trust.

In October, the Office of Attorney General petitioned the Crawford County Court of Common Pleas to oust the current Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park for allegedly failing to properly care for the amusement park.

In the filing of the petition to remove Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park, the state alleged, among other things, that: The board failed to take advantage of business opportunities that would have generated more revenue; that Trustees steered business away from Hotel Conneaut; and that these incidents and failure to insure Dreamland Ballroom and The Beach Club represent “serious breaches of their (Trustees) fiduciary duty.”

According to the court petition, the damage inflicted on Conneaut Lake Park include failing to insure against the structural loss due to the fire at the Dreamland Ballroom on Feb. 1, 2008, and the fire at The Beach Club on Aug. 1 this year; and failing to exploit opportunities and/or promote the best interests of the park.

A status conference on the Attorney General’s petition is scheduled in county court Jan. 27, 2014.

Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at kgushard@meadvilletribune.com.

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