Lazy river ride

This was the first full season of operation in years for Splash City's three major attractions — a lazy river ride (pictured), dual water slides and a children's pool — at Conneaut Lake Park.

With its more than $1 million in delinquent tax debt now paid and operating revenue growing by more than 20 percent, Conneaut Lake Park slowly is starting to turn around, according to Mark Turner, executive director of Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park.

"This year's been very positive and it's always going to be a struggle while we have debt obligations, but it's great to have the taxes behind us," Turner said.

Earlier this month, Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park, the nonprofit corporation that oversees the amusement park's operations, paid the balance of its $1,016,028.66 in outstanding real estate taxes, interest and penalties owed to Conneaut School District, Crawford County and Sadsbury and Summit townships that dated back to 1997. It also paid $214,867.55 in legal fees to those taxing bodies as part of the park filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. It owes $55,768.40 in remaining legal fees to the taxing bodies.

"We're elated," said Francis Weiderspahn Jr., chairman of county Board of Commissioners. "They accomplished what they set out to do in a timely fashion."

"The commissioners have a duty to the taxpayers of the county that any tax obligation was satisfied," Commissioner Chris Soff said. "That was the position of the prior board of commissioners as well as this current board."

The sale of excess lakefront property generated $537,767.91 in revenue toward the debt and Trustees were able to pay off the balance with fire insurance proceeds of $478,260.75 from the 2013 fire that destroyed the Beach Club night club.

The fire insurance proceeds were subject to a fight in U.S. District Court for Western Pennsylvania between Trustees and the former operators of the Beach Club with Trustees eventually being awarded the money. Those funds were held in escrow by the county Treasurer's Office until appeal deadlines passed.

Fire insurance proceeds checks for the balances Conneaut Lake Park owed to the school district, county and two townships were sent out Sept. 8 to each of those entities, said Christine Krzysiak, the county's treasurer.

Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park filed for Chapter 11 federal bankruptcy protection in December 2014 because of the real estate taxes, interest, fees and penalties owed.

For its 2017 operating season, Conneaut Lake Park's operating revenue climbed 23 percent compared to 2016. It was the second consecutive year of more than 20 percent growth.

Through Sept. 10 this year, Conneaut Lake Park's total revenue is $667,996.63. That includes sale of park wristbands for rides and water park; gift shop revenue; games and miniature golf revenue; and revenue from Camperland, the park's campground. The total doesn't include concessions, which was contracted this year.

The 2017 revenue is $123,373.02 or 23 percent more than what the park's total revenue was through the same period in 2016.

The sale of wristbands — for amusement rides and Splash City water park — were up 24 percent for the year, Turner said. The park had $404,431.55 in wristbands this year and $325,142.04 last year.

This was the first full season of operation in years for Splash City's three major attractions — a lazy river ride, dual water slides and a children's pool. In 2016, those attractions came back on line in stages and all three weren't operating at the same time until August 2016.

"It's all about people," Turner said. "Getting them coming into the park."

Turner estimates total revenue should be up about 25 percent compared to 2016 once revenue from concessions and the Hotel Conneaut are factored in later this year.

Both of those are contracted out with 12.5 percent of gross revenue with guaranteed minimums to be paid to Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park by their operators. The concessions vendor has a guaranteed minimum payment of $40,000 while the hotel's guaranteed minimum payment to Trustees is $30,000 for 2017.

Profitability for the park is another question,Turner said, and a profit and loss statement comparing revenue with expenses such as labor, liabilities, insurance, capital project outlays and utilities won't be prepared until later this year.

"We're really just getting caught up on deferred maintenance around the park," Turner said. "But, we're also responsible for the water system for residents. The road system, which is private, is in deplorable condition. This was primary reason we (the Economic Progress Alliance of Crawford County) became involved. We viewed it as a community, not just an amusement park."

The Economic Progress Alliance of Crawford County, the county's lead economic development agency, has three of seven seats on the Trustees of Conneaut Lake's board of directors. Economic Progress Alliance staff, which includes Turner, acts as the park's administrative staff.

"We're really just getting on our feet with the amusement park again," Turner said. "This is the first time we've had the water park open for the full season. Part of the growth we've seen reflects how far down we were."

One avenue for future revenue growth is an expansion of Camperland campground with infrastructure planning for the expansion utilities nearing completion, Turner said.

Camperland has 115 sites with 31 tent sites, 22 water and electric sites, 56 full hook-up sites with water, electric and sewer, and five primitive cabins. The expansion plan would add about 50 pull-through camping spaces with full-utility hookups.

A pull-through site is one that a trailer or recreational vehicle can be driven straight through rather than having to back into or out of the site.

The expansion area would use a portion of one of the amusement park's parking lots along Route 618 for the additional pull-through sites.

"We want not just more people but more revenue," Turner said. "We have waiting list at Camperland, but we don't have room. Expansion of Camperland is a critical project for us right now and the next major priority."

Revenue for Camperland increased 10 percent this year — from $148,835.93 in 2016 to $163,453.35 in 2017.

"If it goes forward, we're going to see revenues there up 30 percent or 40 percent," Turner said of Camperland's expansion.

Turner said he's pleased overall with what has been taking place.

"Our plan of reorganization requires that we set the bar pretty high," he said. "We have to grow revenues. If we can do that again next year, we'd be very happy."

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

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