Conneaut Lake Commitment Organizers say upgrades important for people to be “proud of the town”

The Meadville Tribune – Special Section
By Jean Shanley
Sunday, February 15, 2015

The decision of two Conneaut Lake-area couples to purchase property and create Ice House Park so the public would still have access to the lake and its view has sparked an effort to make the rest of the town as beautiful as the lake.

In 2006, Dr. Robert Moyers and his wife, Bobbie, along with Bob Moss and his wife, Kathy, purchased the property at the south end of Conneaut Lake, which is now known as Ice House Park, an area designed for people to enjoy the view of the lake and to have a place for small gatherings.

The couples invested their own money and then received a state grant to complete the project, which has become a showpiece for the town.

With that finished, the couples took steps to organize the Conneaut Lake Community Development Committee (CLCDC), which has been designing plans for improvement throughout the borough, including putting the utilities underground and improving Fireman’s Beach.  That was in 2007.

The purpose of the committee is to “revitalize the Borough of Conneaut Lake’s appearance, economic activity and its business so that it will become a thriving tourist destination while also improving the health, welfare, safety and quality of life for all area residents and to develop the community’s unique identity consistent with its history and location on the largest natural lake in Pennsylvania.”

The CLCDC has been busy applying for grants to fund projects to improve both Water Street and Fireman’s Beach.  With the projects estimated at nearly $7 million, almost half of the funding has already been acquired through grants.  If things go according to plan, construction could begin on Water Street later this year and in late 2016 for Fireman’s Beach.

Showing people care
Moyers, who was chairman of the committee in the beginning, said he believes the improvements are important because they show how people care.  He said every summer it seems a big truck would go through town and tear down utility lines, leaving the town not only unsightly, but also dangerous.  He said the underground lines would make it not only look more attractive but safer for the community.

“Conneaut Lake has always been a resort community,” Moyers said, adding, “We fell behind in some aspects.”

He believes it is important to make the improvements so people can be proud of the town when it has visitors.  He said most people live in the area because they found it attractive, and he believes it is important to maintain the upkeep of the town.

Moyers recalled that in 1948 when Fireman’s Beach was developed, it was a swamp and his father was someone who spent time filling in the swamp so it became a recreational area.  Moyers said he helped with the effort when he was home from college.

He said while some people asked, “What’s the matter with our town?” when the CLCDC was first formed, he knew there were many who were interested in improving the town.  He said the town “just looked like we had no pride.”

When CLCDC applied for and received a grant for improvements in Fireman’s Beach in 2008, Conneaut Lake Borough Council, which had to accept the grant, declined the grant from the Department of Environmental Resources because the grant stipulations were too restrictive and they believed accepting the grant meant relinquishing control of the beach.  That was in 2008.

Things have changed
Since then, things have changed.  CLCDC requested permission to submit a $25,000 grant application for funding to develop a comprehensive master plan.

The grant application was approved in July 2011 and that became the starting point for the present revitalization effort, according to Bill Eldridge, CLCDC chairman.

Eldridge was elected to borough council in November 2011 and has become council’s liaison to the CLCDC.  Conneaut Lake Mayor Tim Kaider serves with Eldridge on the CLCDC committee from council.

Since that time, Eldridge has been working with E.G.&G.,  a consulting firm, searching for grant opportunities and has spent countless hours writing and submitting grants.  All the preparations and grant work take years to be completed.

Joanie Kozlowski has been involved with the CLCDC since the beginning.  Also an owner of The Berry Basket gift shop in town and treasurer of Conneaut Lake Area Business Association, she remembers one of the first meetings with the utility companies about putting the lines underground.  She said they were told it would take between seven and ten years and the response was “You’re kidding us.”

The committee was told it needed an engineer and project manager to design the plans and she recalled, “Bob Moss (who had the necessary credentials) took the bull by the horn and got all the drawings done.”

She has seen much progress since then and said, “I can’t wait for it to start.”

“A facelift is what we really need,” she said, adding the signage, lights and walkways design are going to improve the safety for the public and make the town more walker friendly and the beach more accessible.  

She and Moyers both agreed that improving the town is necessary also because of the huge traffic volume  ̶  which comes from Interstate 79 and heads to Pymatuning State Park and other areas.

“We’ve got to build from the bottom up,” Kozlowski said, noting the importance of the infrastructure work, which is planned also.

Work to be done
After having town hall meetings and receiving public comment, the CLCDC drew up a list of priorities for the work to be done.

Eldridge said the town hall meetings were designed to publicly unveil the preliminary concept drawings for the proposed town improvements and to solicit reactions and suggestions for the proposed improvements.  He said public comments were analyzed and the concept plans and drawings were revised to incorporate the best ideas.

The major components of the Water Street downtown project include sidewalks, crosswalk pavements and handicapped accessibility, underground utility relocations, street lighting system, street trees and landscape enhancements, curb, gutters and driveway aprons, roadway pavement, street marking and traffic signage, storm drainage system and a new traffic signal system.

The major components of the Fireman’s Beach project include guard house/circular entrance with signage, double boat ramp, boat docking system, major parking lot loop  drive, pedestrian promenade along water front, pedestrian lake access ramp, concession restroom upgrade, pavilion/picnic facilities, playground and promenade parking lighting.

While Conneaut Lake Park is an added attraction to the Conneaut Lake area, the CLCDC is not working on any projects or grant applications that would include any work at Conneaut Lake Park  ̶  only to Conneaut Lake Borough.

Grants received
To date, more than $3 million in grants has been received for the two projects  ̶  Water Street and Fireman’s Beach improvements  ̶  estimated to cost nearly $7 million.

In addition to the initial state Department of Community Development planning grant of $25,000, the CLCDC has raised more than $150,000 in cash from businesses and individuals.

Other grants received have been Appalachian Regional Commission, $150,000;  DCED, $175,000; state Department of Community and Natural Resources (DCNR), $400,000; Crawford County Act 13 and Community Development Block Grant, $210,000;  the federal Economic Development Administration, $1 million; National Endowment for the Arts, $75,000; DCNR $375,000; and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, $400,000.

Two applications are pending a final decision during 2015  ̶  one from DCED for $375,000 and one from PennDOT for $150,000, Eldridge said.

The CLCDC also persuaded the borough to commit $150,000 to the project, which Eldridge said was huge compared to council’s annual budget.

“CLCDC has worked tirelessly behind the scenes at no cost to the borough to research, investigate, solicit, support, plead, justify, advertise and offer for opportunities to provide funding for our worthy project,” Eldridge said.

All advance coordination, meeting with granting agencies, applications preparation work, explanation of requests, provision of additional information, obtaining government official support letters and intervention, travel expenses, volunteer labor and time are provided by the CLCDC, Eldridge said.  He said when a funding opportunity is considered promising, the CLCDC works to prepare all documents so borough council is able to effortlessly authorize the submission of the request knowing that all required paperwork has been prudently, professionally and strategically prepared.

Many have recognized Eldridge at borough council meetings for his extensive work on the grant applications and other CLCDC work on behalf of council.

Other developments
One of the main ideas mentioned many times was the possibility of attracting a high-end restaurant to locate in town.  While that remains to be seen, Hermitage-based Hudson Property Management has proposed building a $10 million senior living center at Conneaut Lake in the next two years.

Eldridge believes the borough has become an attractive investment site for this project in part due to the grants Conneaut Lake Borough has received for the revitalization.

Although not directly a CLCDC project, the Ron Anderson family, a major CLCDC supporter, was motivated to donate a $540,000 renovated church as a matching contribution to be used by the borough as a new town hall/community center.  That property was deeded over to the borough at the end of December and now is being used.

A grant from the National Endowment for the Arts was received and work on art projects in the borough was started through collaboration with Allegheny College Professor Amara Geffen.

Planned construction schedule
Eldridge said construction will begin when the final engineering design work is completed.  That work is ongoing and is being pursued as appropriate funding becomes available.

Funding for the two main projects is being pursued separately because the funding is earmarked separately.  Eldridge said the preliminary engineering design for Water Street will be presented to borough council in the near future and the drawings will be finalized upon council’s approval.

“If there are no major revisions and re-engineering requirements identified during the review process, construction and bidding documents can be finalized in time for a September 2015 construction award date,” he said.

Schedule for the work will be staggered to account for weather and to minimize wholesale disruption of commerce in the downtown business district, he added, noting construction will probably be scheduled one block at a time.

At this time the Fireman’s Beach schedule is about six to eight months behind the Water Street schedule, Eldridge said.  If possible Fireman’s Beach summer activities will not be reduced and construction will be scheduled to occur during the beach off-season, meaning construction would begin in September 2016, he said.

Work will proceed as funding allows.  “We anticipate additional funding coming in before the bidding project begins,” he said.  He added that it may be necessary to pursue the improvements in stages as available funding dictates, but once construction begins it will continue progressively until all the improvements are complete.

Project phases and costs
Eldridge said that it was recognized in the beginning that the master plan would be a long-range planning document and that the development of the plan was, by design, unconstrained by dollars so that a total assessment of all borough needs could be obtained.  He said it will be necessary to update the plan in the future to add unanticipated new requirements and remove the goals accomplished.

The original plan was analyzed after completion and determined to be too costly to pursue as one single realistic renovation project because of its massive nature.  The project being pursued includes the three-block business district of Water Street between First and Fourth streets and the upgrading of Fireman’s Beach facilities.  The cost estimate and upgrades for this project is $6.6 million with the actual cost to be determined by the bidding process.

Future plans include the side streets and the gateway connecting streets in the borough near the Golden Dawn market and the paving of the large new crushed stone parking lot at Fireman’s Beach, Eldridge said.

Reaction from others
Crawford County commissioners have offered support not only by a resolution of support but also through a $210,000 Community Development Block Grant.  Commissioner C. Sherman Allen said he believes the project is going very well and while he hasn’t attended some of the meetings, he has heard no complaints from anybody.  He said the CLCDC appears to have some very knowledgeable people doing the work, including Eldridge and others.

Borough council member Mike Krepps said council members are pleased with the grants being received and the work that had to be done to make that happen.

“The possibility of economic growth to our community is all good,” Krepps said, adding he is looking forward to the improvements at Fireman’s Beach and he recognizes the huge effort the CLCDC is making to obtain all the grants.

“We’re going to have construction pains,” said Dick Holabaugh, president of borough council, but “I’m excited about it.”  He hopes the beach project will generate new interest in bringing people to the lake, pointing out that plans call for additional boat docks.

Holabaugh paid tribute to all the work being done by the CLCDC and E.G.&G.

“They’ve done a yeoman’s job of obtaining funds,” he said.  “My hat’s off to them.  They’ve put in a lot of time and effort.”