Losses continue to mount at Atwood Lake Resort

November 25, 2009

With operating losses that could be near $1 million by the end of the year, the future of Atwood Lake Resort and Conference Center continues to be a topic of concern for its owner, the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD).


Members of the MWCD Board of Directors said they are extremely concerned by the last several years of increasing operating losses at the resort amid the efforts this year of local, state and federal officials to assist the MWCD in finding a buyer for the 104-room hotel and meeting center located along Atwood Lake in Carroll County.


“The Board of Directors established the sale of the resort as one of its top priorities during 2009,” said Richard J. Pryce, president of the Board, during a meeting held recently at New Philadelphia. “It is becoming more evident, though, that the MWCD must consider whether maintaining present operations at the resort is fiscally responsible.”


The MWCD, which opened Atwood Resort in 1965, reported in its monthly budget report to the Board of Directors that through the month of October, the rate of occupied rooms was only at 31.8 percent for the year, leading to an overall operating loss of more than $836,000 to date in 2009. Budget projections called for an occupancy room rate of 41.9 percent, and it takes a rate of more than 60 percent of guest rooms filled for the entire year to break even, said John M. Hoopingarner, MWCD executive director/secretary.


“We have worked very hard to find a solution that would keep the resort open and we have assured our customers and interested public officials that there are no plans to tear down the resort buildings,” Hoopingarner said. “However, the future continued operation of the resort by the MWCD is not clear.”


Hoopingarner stressed it would be unfair for the MWCD to attempt to pay for the losses at Atwood Lake Resort by increasing rates it charges for other recreational activities it offers, such as camping, cabin rentals, boat docking and/or lease fees. Likewise, substantially reducing or eliminating planned improvements and routine upgrades at its lake parks and other recreational facilities also would create negative consequences, he said.


“It would not be fair to our guests and users at our lakes around the watershed to put directly on them the burden of the costs of operating Atwood Lake Resort,” Hoopingarner said. “It also is very likely that increasing rates at our facilities would price the MWCD out of the outdoor recreation market in Ohio, and putting off needed improvements would have negative consequences for the quality of our recreational facilities.”


The MWCD manages 14 reservoirs and owns an estimated 54,000 acres of property in 13 counties (including water space), most of which is open for public access. It manages recreational facilities at five lake parks – at Atwood, Charles Mill, Pleasant Hill, Seneca and Tappan lakes – and campgrounds at Leesville Lake and the North Branch of the Kokosing River.


The MWCD has worked throughout the year with various entities interested in the continued operation of Atwood Lake Resort in its present, reduced or some other capacity, Hoopingarner said. In September, the MWCD, Carroll County commissioners and Kent State University Tuscarawas agreed to form a partnership for potential grant funding and/or other possible opportunities. The MWCD also advertised this fall for proposals from interested buyers, with proposals due back by the end of the year for MWCD review.


Kent State University Tuscarawas has said that it is not interested in purchasing Atwood Lake Resort, but it has offered to participate in partnership with any potential buyer to develop educational opportunities at the resort.


Hoopingarner said MWCD officials have discussed the situation with public officials from Carroll County, and federal and state legislators, including staff of U.S. Rep. Zack Space (D-Dover), state Reps. Mark Okey (D-Carrollton) and Allan Sayre (D-Dover), and state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Canfield.


The resort operations include 17 four-bedroom vacation cabins, an 18-hole golf course, a nine-hole par-3 golf course, lounge and restaurant. It is situated on more than 300 acres overlooking Atwood Lake.


The resort operation has been losing money for several years and has been an increasing drain on the available funds of the MWCD, Hoopingarner said. These losses have seriously impaired the ability of the MWCD to make improvements at its other recreation facilities at its 14 reservoir areas throughout the watershed.


Funds collected by the MWCD assessment of property owners in the region for maintenance and rehabilitation of the reservoirs and dams are prohibited by law from being used to financially support operations at Atwood Lake Resort, Hoopingarner said.


Atwood Lake Resort is one of Carroll County’s top employers. It currently employs about 30 full-time and 70 part-time workers.


The resort also pays significant taxes to the county and bed taxes to both Monroe Township where it is located, as well as to the Carroll County Convention and Visitors Bureau in its work to market the county as a tourist and overnight destination. During recent years, the resort has had an annual payroll of nearly $2 million and paid more than $300,000 per year in real estate and other taxes to local governments. During peak operations, the resort employs about 150 workers.


The MWCD, a political subdivision of the state, was organized in 1933 to develop and implement a plan to reduce flooding and conserve water for beneficial public uses in the Muskingum River Basin, the largest wholly contained watershed in Ohio. Since their construction, the reservoirs (including Atwood Lake) and dams in the MWCD region have been credited for saving more than $7 billion worth of potential property damage from flooding, according to the federal government.


For more information about the MWCD, visit www.mwcd.org.


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