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After Decades Of Decline And Disrepair, Conneaut Lake Park Is Turning A Profit

Keith Srakocic
A sign welcomes guests to Conneaut Lake Park in Conneaut Lake, Pa., on June 29, 2000.

Conneaut Lake Park Manager Matthew Briggs uses words like "wonderful" and "incredible" to describe the Crawford County park's season so far this summer.

With 24,382 ride, water park and combination wristbands sold through the first half of the season, through July 10, sales are up 51 percent from the same time in 2016. And sales then were up from 2015.

"It's been a fantastic season so far," Briggs said. "We doubled our best day ever (on July 9) and took in just under $100,000 without concessions July 3 through July 9."

Those sales got a boost from the Fourth of July holiday and a $5 ride day July 9, Briggs said. The park offers all-day rides for $5 on the second Sunday of each month. Rides typically cost $10.

Water park rides also cost $10. Combination wristbands for both water park and amusement rides cost $18.

"Sales overall are up from last year. And last year was a better year than (2015)," Briggs said.

The park has been operated since 2015 by the Economic Progress Alliance of Crawford County through a management agreement with park trustees, who filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for the park in December 2014. The economic development agency proposed reorganizing, revitalizing and revisioning the park to make it profitable again, and so far it's working.

Basic improvements, including the repair and reopening of park water attractions in 2016, and basic changes, including free park admission and lower ride fees, have attracted more visitors.

"It's priced right now, and that's bringing people in," Briggs said.

People now also go to the park to walk or walk their dogs, Briggs said, and often buy food or drinks or trinkets on the midway.

"There are people who drive in and pull up just to buy park fries," he said.

New visitors this summer included Denise Galicic, of Pittsburgh, who visited Conneaut Lake Park this past week with three generations of her family, including her brother and his children, from Ohio.

"It's central for us, and a nice place for us all to get together," Galicic said. "We're enjoying the area. It's just so different and so quaint."

Conneaut Lake Park was opened as Exposition Park in 1892. The park thrived for generations but in recent decades fell into decline and disrepair.

A bankruptcy judge in September approved a financial reorganization plan for the park, including specifics on how it will repay more than $1.3 million in delinquent property taxes and another $2 million in debt.

So far those repayments are on schedule, said Mark Turner, executive director of the Economic Progress Alliance.

"We're meeting all of obligations and are even a little ahead of those obligations under the bankruptcy," Turner said. "The park taxes are almost entirely paid off. We're definitely happy with the way things are going, but our challenges right from the very beginning have not been customer oriented or revenue oriented, but the hole that was dug so deep over the years that coming out of that hole is going to take some time."

Property not essential to the amusement park is being sold to pay down park debt. The bulk of a $611,000 insurance settlement on the park Beach Club, which burned down in August 2013, also went toward debt.

"At least the trajectory of the park has changed. It's going in the right direction," Turner said.

Besides wristband sales, other park revenues are also up this year. Gift shop sales so far are up 17 percent from 2016. Game and miniature golf revenues are up 93 percent. Camperland revenues increased by one-third, Briggs said.

A company hired to run park concessions has increased sales by almost 100 percent, Turner said.

"We went to a contractor, somebody who is in the concessions business and knows what they're doing," he said.

Conneaut Lake Park water attractions are open Mondays and Thursdays. Rides and water attractions are open Fridays through Sundays and on Monday holidays, including the Labor Day season finale. There's also a special Park After Dark event Aug. 19 with rides from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.

The park is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but in the future might be open seven days a week, and open four seasons. Economic Progress Alliance plans for the park include construction of a performing arts center, expo center, beach club and pavilions to attract visitors year-round.

For now, Briggs is focusing on opening extra days for company picnics and other private events.

"I'd love to be able to rent to a Channellock or Walmart for their own day at the park," he said.