Indiana, PA - Indiana County

AG sues to remove park's trustees

on October 31, 2013 10:30 AM

MEADVILLE (AP) — The state attorney general’s office has sued to remove a court-appointed board of trustees who oversee a 121-year-old amusement park in northwestern Pennsylvania.

The lawsuit filed in Crawford County contends The Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park Inc. have fallen nearly $900,000 behind on property taxes, and failed to have insurance when fires burned the park’s Dreamland Ballroom in 2008 and its Beach Club, which is leased and operated by a private firm, on Aug. 1.

The park was struggling for years with declining attendance, maintenance issues and even weather — it shut down 14 of 16 weekends due to rain and poor crowds in 1992 — before it was sold to a consortium of local businessmen in 1993 who filed for bankruptcy.

The park was closed altogether in 1995 but reopened in 1996 when it was purchased by Ohio businessman Gary Harris, only to see him convicted for tax evasion and lose control of the park, prompting a county judge to order that it be run by trustees or court-appointed custodians since 1998.

The park’s finances have continues to be an issue and the county has threatened a tax sale. That’s because Summit Township has filed a claim for $880,000 in unpaid property taxes dating to 1996 against any insurance settlement received by Park Restoration LLC, the private company that leased and operated the Beach Club.

The attorney general’s petition asks the court to make the trustees responsible for paying to rebuild the Dreamland Ballroom — which was uninsured — and $611,000 for the Beach Club fire, a figure that matches the value of the private firm’s policy on the building. The attorney general contends the park won’t receive any insurance money from the Beach Club fire because the trustees didn’t make sure they were listed as a payee on the policy.

The petition names only two trustees — president Jack Moyers and Secretary Carol West — and demands, among other things, that they identify the other trustees. Moyers didn’t return requests for comment and West has declined comment.

The petition asks the trustees to tell a judge why they shouldn’t be removed or ordered to pay for the fires.

Greg Sutterlin, co-owner of the company that ran the Beach Club, said the petition could be a “new beginning for Conneaut Lake Park.”

Sutterlin’s attorney, Francis Murrman, wants a judge to decide who gets most of the $611,000 insurance claim — which is tied up by the township’s tax claim — and who is responsible for the back taxes.

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