CONNEAUT LAKE -- The first relatively quiet offseason in several years could give way to the busiest stretch of warm-weather months in recent memory for Crawford County's once-premiere summer resort.
Conneaut Lake Park is moving ahead with plans to open the Hotel Conneaut and the Beach Club restaurant-bar for their first full seasons since 2006. Several special events have been scheduled at the 117-year-old amusement park, including bands and cruise-ins over the Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends and the return of the Fall Pumpkin Fest and "Ghost Lake: The Haunted Amusement Park" in October.
The park's 12-member board of trustees continues to solicit offers from individuals or companies interested in leasing and operating portions of the park, including its amusement rides.
"It's a little bit light, but we are seeing some interest generated there," board President Jack Moyers said. "It kind of came at a bad economic time."
The economy notwithstanding, the level of activity at the park is more positive than it was over the past two winters.
The 2006 offseason featured a failed attempt to sell a piece of park property to raise money to pay off its more than $2 million-plus debt and cover the costs of reopening that season. Subsequent attempts to raise operating capital also failed, forcing the park to shut down for the year.
In 2007, the newly appointed board's efforts to reopen the park were derailed in large part by an arsonist who set fire to the historic Dreamland Ballroom in early February, destroying the massive building and part of the adjoining midway.
So far this year, the only notable challenge facing the board is trying to figure out the motives behind a Mercer County corporation's purchase of debt the park owes Summit Township for unpaid amusement taxes. Some speculated First Capital Finance Inc.'s purchase of the roughly $152,000 debt for $200,000 in January would lead the company to try to force foreclosure of the park, which sits in public trust, to recoup its money.
No action has been taken so far.
Moyers said that despite the uncertainty from the debt purchase, the park board believes it has generated some momentum in its efforts to return Conneaut Lake Park to a viable operation.
"I think we've developed a greater understanding of the function of the park and what needs to happen in order to preserve it," he said.
Helping to advance the board's plan was the completion earlier this year of lease agreements for the Hotel Conneaut and the Beach Club. A group of local investors will operate the hotel under a 30-year lease and will run the Beach Club under a 20-year lease. It plans to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to upgrade both facilities, said Greg Sutterlin, of the investment group.
The Hotel Conneaut, which opened for a portion of 2008, will have up to 120 of its rooms ready for occupancy this spring, Sutterlin said. Work is also under way to open the Spirit Lounge on the hotel's ground floor for parties, seminars and other special events, and to transform a room off the lounge into a playroom that can be rented out for birthday parties and other activities for children, he said.
The development group also plans to add a pool to the hotel property and will renovate the hotel's Crystal Ballroom and its lower-level restaurant, which they hope to lease out to a separate operator, Sutterlin said.
Roof repairs and other improvements are planned for the Beach Club and the adjoining Dockside building, which the group hopes to rent out for dances and other special events, Sutterlin said.
The park board has set up a Web site to provide information on other areas of the park that are available for leasing, and it is talking with people about the possibility of serving as the park's events coordinator this summer, Moyers said.
"I think in a matter of few weeks we'll be able to confirm more activities in the park," he said.
@ On the web: Information on Conneaut Lake Park can be found at http://www.conneautlakepark.com
TIM HAHN can be reached at (814) 392-7821 or by e-mail.