Conneaut Lake Park faces sheriff's sale, bankruptcy

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Conneaut Lake Park, the scene of many local residents’ happy summertime memories for 122 years, soon could be auctioned at sheriff’s sale to pay off about $2.5 million in taxes and other debts, according to Crawford County officials.

In a unanimous vote Thursday morning, all three county commissioners rejected a plan by local economic development officials, who are helping to manage the park, to pay $100,000 toward more than $900,000 in back taxes, current taxes and penalties, then pay the remainder over the following four years.

The plan proposed by the Economic Progress Alliance of Crawford County, said county Commissioner C. Sherman Allen, didn’t show a way of generating the kind of revenue needed to repay the taxes owed to Crawford County, two townships and the local school district — much less debts owed to other creditors — while also maintaining operating revenue.

“There’s a lot of good memories at the park, but memories don’t pay the bills,” said Mr. Allen, who said he had many good times there as a teenager, dancing with young ladies at the now burned-out Dreamland Ballroom. “I have to take care of my fiduciary responsibility as a commissioner, and our fiduciary responsibility is to the taxpayers of Crawford County.”

The property could appear at sheriff’s sale on Nov. 7, although county officials originally planned for a sale in September. The other taxing bodies that are owed — the townships and the school district — signed off on the sale in May, Mr. Allen said.

Mark Turner, the economic development group’s executive director, did not respond to several requests for comment. He has said park trustees will consider filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to stop the sheriff’s sale and freeze the park’s assets, according to The Associated Press. The redevelopment agency could then proceed with plans to renovate the park, transforming it from a summer amusement park and lakeside resort to a cultural destination that can earn revenue year-round.

“We have to convert the park from a 10-week business model to a 12-month business model, or we will not achieve self-sufficiency,” Mr. Turner said in June.

Developers would like to build a new lakeside performing arts center and outdoor amphitheater, and possibly condominiums, and would improve the hotel and amusement park already in place.

For more than 100 years, many local residents made the 100-mile trek north to escape the bustle of the city for the park’s cottages and boarding rooms, swimming in Conneaut Lake, and enjoying the boardwalk, rides, games and dancing.

Like many other local institutions, the park suffered after the collapse of the region’s steel mills eroded the demand for its amusements, and has been declining for decades. Weeds, dead trees and broken fences didn’t help the park compete with newer, shinier attractions. Neither did the fire that gutted the Dreamland Ballroom in 2008, or the fire that damaged the park’s banquet hall and adjacent bar last year — fires for which the park was inadequately insured, adding to its financial quandary.

Mr. Allen said he believes the park still could attract visitors to the region, and drive the growth of jobs and spending in the local economy. But whoever owns the park might have to make some major changes to its traditional rides, games and concessions for that to happen, and will have to bring the financial means to make the park a success again.

“Put in there, wanted: big-time investor,” Mr. Allen said.

Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: or 412-263-1719

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