Monday, July 03, 2000

Americana still unopened

Amusement park needs inspections, permits

By Randy McNutt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MONROE — The new owner of Americana missed the July 4 business, and his silence raises questions about the promised reopening of the historic Butler County amusement park.

        Few government offices have heard from Jerry Couch, the camper dealer who bought the former LeSourdsville Lake amusement park May 24.

        “I don't know exactly what he's doing,” said Jay Stewart, Monroe's development director. “He set up a meeting with us about six weeks ago, then canceled it. We haven't heard from him since.”

        Mr. Couch did not return telephone calls from the Enquirer during the past several weeks, but an Americana employee said Mr. Couch hopes to open the park in late July.

Lack of inspections
        But Mr. Couch has not scheduled several inspections necessary to open for the now-abbreviated season.

        “We have talked to the new owners,” said Deborah Abbott, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Agriculture's Division of Amusement Ride Safety. “When they're ready to open, they'll contact us and we'll license them. But we've heard nothing about that yet.”

        She said each ride must pass a full mechanical inspection, and state inspectors must look at the training methods for ride operators.

        “They (park owners) need to get those rides up and going and do maintenance,” Ms. Abbott said. “This is routine for parks before they open in the early, early spring. They must make sure that the rides are in good working condition.

        “For instance, seat belt straps must be checked and replaced if needed. They (the owners) haven't set anything up.”

        Though inspections might take only a few days, she said, they must first be scheduled.

        In addition, Mr. Couch would need a building permit from the city if he intends to build or add a new parking lot, as he has discussed, Mr. Stewart said. Under zoning laws for the site, Mr. Couch would not need a permit to add a campground or a recreational-vehicle sales center, Mr. Stewart said.

Challenges await Opening an amusement park in August loses most of the season's business, said Susie Storey, spokeswoman
        for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions in Arlington, Va.

        But if he has the means, the new owner should reopen the park to keep its name before the public, she added.

        “He'll have a challenging time, but Ohio is a good market,” Ms. Storey said. “People have already planned their vacations, but he can pick up the local market. August is mid-season. Labor Day is the largest day of the end of the season.”

        She said the entire amusement- park industry has had problems finding employees. “Most of them are students. They tend to find jobs early in the summer.”

        A supervisor at the Bureau of Employment Services in Hamilton, who asked that his name not be used, said Mr. Couch has not made arrangements to see job candidates, as Americana has done in the past.

        Before Mr. Couch can open, he also must obtain permits to sell food, said Pat Burg of the Butler County Board of Health, and as of Wednesday, Mr. Couch had not contacted the board.

        “I don't know what shape his permits are in,” she said. “It may be just a matter of us inspecting to find if everything is up to code.”

        When he announced the purchase, Mr. Couch said he would change the park's name to Americana at LeSourdsville Lake out of respect for the 77-year-old park's heritage. It began as LeSourdsville Lake.

        “We have a lot of ground here, and we can add a garden center and a campground and other things,” said Mr. Couch, a Hamilton native. “The park is very clean and ready. We'll make sure that we do everything right.”

        Park River Corp., the owner of Coney Island, bought Americana in 1996 from Leisure Systems Inc. for an undisclosed price and spent about $4 million on improvements.

        Attendance failed to rise to expected levels.

        Nevertheless, Mr. Couch said he was convinced that it can be profitable. He said he hoped to generate additional income by operating ancillary attractions on the park's 68 acres, including boat and camper shows and off-season events.


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