Meadville Tribune

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Opinion

July 11, 2014

We must work together to give Conneaut Lake Park its best chance yet at a comeback

Decades of false starts and dashed hopes have made it all too easy to dismiss the current push to save Conneaut Lake Park without understanding this truly exceptional opportunity.

At long last, the park — a public trust — is unchained from the hodge-podge boards of part-time community volunteers who have attempted to run it in the past. Now it is under the management of a full-time agency that boast experts in reclaiming troubled properties. We all need to understand that the knowledge and experience currently being brought to bear on the troubled park is light years above and beyond that which was in place in the past.

In the very short time the Economic Progress Alliance of Crawford County has been in charge, it has restored public trust by acting with openness and transparency, and the park’s grounds are already looking better than they have in some time.

The long, hard work of digging out of debt while building a sustainable operating plan remains, but given the successes the Alliance has under its belt dealing with formerly blighted properties such as the Avtex manufacturing plant and Keystone Ordnance Works, there is more rational reason for optimism than has existed in many years.

This is why all the government entities that are owed long overdue tax payments — and some such as the Conneaut School District are owed a considerable amount — need to wait patiently for another few years to see if the EPACC can rescue the park.

We understand the motivation of elected officials eager to collect these long overdue funds in order to get on with providing key services. But we must point out that the Alliance has a plan to pay off a chunk of the overdue money now and that attempting to force a tax sale of park property is likely to start a long legal battle that will waste more time and money.

As operator of a public trust, the Alliance is obligated to protect that trust, meaning that it must resist a tax sale. It already has said if the school board or others attempt to force a tax sale, it has and will use two powerful tools — calling on the state attorney general for help and/or declaring bankruptcy.

Rather than forcing the Alliance into this position, it would be far more productive for everyone to work together for the time being to give the park the best chance it has had to date to make a comeback. The Alliance has a plan to pay off a chunk of back taxes now, pay off the entire balance in four years and to keep current with new tax bills. A few more years of waiting for complete payment is not too much to ask given this historic park’s importance to our county’s economy.

If the park truly is doomed, the experts at the Alliance will be the first to step forward to say so and work with everyone to execute an orderly liquidation of the park’s assets. But right now it is too soon to say that the park is doomed by anything but our own impatience.

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