Conneaut Lake Park's new owner doesn't need state approval for the demolition and construction done in the park's historic district.
In an interview Thursday with The Meadville Tribune, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) spokesman Howard Pollman said the commission's legal team has found covenants, or restrictions, placed on Conneaut Lake Park's Historic District by the state didn't apply.
Pollman said the commission's attorneys determined restrictions can't be enforced because the park's new owner, Todd Joseph of Keldon Holdings LLC, hasn't used any state or federal funding for the changes he's made.
"Counsel's office made a determination that the covenant cannot be enforced in this instance," Pollman said. "He is using his own funds."
The Tribune's attempts to reach Joseph by phone and text message were not returned.
Keldon Holdings purchased the amusement park from Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park for $1.2 million in a U.S. Bankruptcy Court proceeding. After closing the deal in March, Keldon then began major changes along the park's midway.
Dilapidated buildings were removed from Comstock Street southeast to the boardwalk area by the lake. Deteriorated pavement, a large wooden stage that overlooked the lake, and trees along the midway also were removed, creating a large open area for festivals.
In June, the PHMC began making inquiries of Joseph since Conneaut Lake Park had accepted a $12,500 PHMC Keystone Historic Preservation Grant eight years ago.
The park was given the $12,500 state grant in June 2013 toward preservation of its famous Blue Streak roller coaster.
The grant's terms required the PHMC to review and approve changes within the park’s core area for 15 years, or until June 2028, Pollman told the Tribune in an interview in August.
According to a filing with the Crawford County Recorder of Deeds Office, the covenants "apply to the historic core of the park and include the Main Ride area and Midway, and includes the area roughly bound by Route 618, Reed Avenue, Lake Street, Brown Avenue, and municipal boundary line of Summit and Sadsbury townships."
The covenants are "to ensure the maintenance and preservation of the architectural and historical characteristics of the Conneaut Lake Park Historic District, which has been determined eligible for listing or is listed in the National Register of Historic Places under the provision of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966."
“No demolition, site development, new construction, or substantial alteration, or other action that may potentially alter the historic character of Conneaut Lake Park shall be undertaken or permitted to said property without the prior written permission from the Commission,” the covenant states.
While Conneaut Lake Park is not on the National Register of Historic Places but still was being treated as such due to the covenants, it didn't mean Joseph couldn't make changes when he became owner, according to Pollman.
"There are big misconceptions about the National Register of Historic Places," he said. "Just because something is historically eligible does not preclude a property owner from doing what he or she chooses to do. It is his property."
According to a fact sheet on the PHMC's website, the National Register of Historic Places:
• Does not restrict the rights of property owners or require that properties be maintained, repaired or restored.
• Does not prevent a property’s destruction by federal, state, local or private development.
• Does not guarantee that grant funds will be available for projects.
• Does not require property owners to follow preservation standards unless they wish to quality for tax benefits.
• Does not require property owners to allow public access to their property.
• Does not automatically invoke local historic district zoning or landmark designation.
• Does not qualify a property for a Pennsylvania Historical Marker.
• Does not list individual properties if the owner objects, or list a historic district if the majority of property owners object.
• Does not provide a plaque for registered properties, although property owners may obtain plaques at their own expense.
Keith Gushard can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.