By AMY GAREIS
News-Herald Staff Writer
DELLROY – The Atwood Lake Resort and Conference Center has gotten a reprieve and will remain standing, for now, while officials try to find alternative uses for the sprawling facility.
Following a July 22 meeting in Carroll County, the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District Board of Directors opted not to demolish the 46-year-old lodge but instead seek new operators. The decision comes amid outcry from locals who wanted it saved to spur some much-needed economic growth.
A press release from MWCD officials indicates the resort will now be offered for free to any willing government agency, but if there is no interest, leaders will take another route and put it up for auction. The last resort would be to raze the 104-room hotel and meeting center.
When it was fully operational, the site included the main hotel, dining room and conference center, two golf courses, 17 vacation cabins and indoor and outdoor swimming pools, along with other amenities. However, a million-dollar financial loss over the past two years, coupled with declining occupancy, led the MWCD to close the doors in October. Last month, the board voted 3-2 to knock down the walls, but many people believed it would generate income under new owners. About 170 people were on hand at the Dellroy Community Center and roughly a quarter of them asked the board to reverse its decision.
Board member Harry Horstman, of Scio, told the News-Herald it should be salvaged.
“I think it was exactly the right thing to do because we haven’t given it due diligence,” Horstman said. “First we will try to give it to a public entity, then we will try to sell it at public sale. The third step is to try a public auction, and if [there are still no buyers] we’re back to where we were.”
He and fellow board member David Parham of Carroll County had originally voted against the demolition while members William P. Boyle Jr. of Richland County, Richard J. Pryce of Stark County and Steve Kokovich of Muskingum County were in favor. MWCD officials had hoped to develop the 500-acre site for recreational purposes.
Since the closure, MWCD leaders have met with Kent State University at Tuscarawas and a resort operator who focuses on renewing financially failing properties. KSU-Tusc expressed its interest in being a part of any solution, including a possible partnership. The board announced in 2009 that it wanted to divest the MWCD of the resort and sought alternative uses and owners. The MWCD hosted a meeting for key stakeholders in the region in March 2010 to discuss the situation and participated in other public meetings throughout the year to obtain input. Those speaking at the latest gathering included Ohio Rep. Mark Okey of Carroll County and Carroll County Commissioner Thomas Wheaton, who said several state legislators sent a letter to the MWCD requesting a reversal in the demolition decision. Following the public comments, Parham made the motion to suspend any demolition plans and to seek potential alternatives. The motion was unanimously approved. Officials were planning to contact numerous agencies and detail an offer to donate the resort to another government agency. John M. Hoopingarner, MWCD executive director/secretary, said that a complete list of potential contacts would be developed as soon as possible.
“We saw the passion of the community in the Atwood region for Atwood Lake Resort,” said Hoopingarner. “The board of directors took action that will provide the community with an opportunity to potentially arrange for a new future direction for the resort.”
Board members stressed that because of the ongoing financial losses, the MWCD will not provide any funding to assist in future operations by any new owners. They cited a sharp decline in the lodge’s occupancy through the years while maintenance costs soared, adding that funds spent to operate Atwood hindered plans to improve the district’s other facilities, such as Tappan, Leesville, Clendening and Piedmont lakes. Leaders also reported losing an estimated $159,000 annually since the lodge opened in 1965.
Meanwhile, Atwood Lake Park and two marinas located on the lake remain open along Ohio 542 between Sherrodsville and Dellroy.
Horstman said some parties offered ideas and sought investors and other conditions, but the board wants to keep the land as it is.
“I’m glad we’re going to have some more breathing time and come to a resolution,” he concluded. “I’m hoping something will materialize to bring an end to the idea [of demolition] because it’s a beautiful place and we need it there.”