To the Editor:
Our team players (listed below), The Resort Experience Company – Atwood, LLC, (CEO John Meeske, COO Mark Wibel) was one of four companies asked by Carroll County commissioners to present business models, business plans and solutions for their newly acquired resort property – the 500 acre Atwood Lake Resort. We made it very clear in our presentation we sent in the previous month and at the meeting of the board of commissioners April 6 our approach required longer than a five-year lease. We suggested a five-year lease with three to four additional options to renew. We were told “no” in the first 30 minutes: invest and we may or may not renew your lease at the end of five years.
Commissioner Tom Wheaton told us the prosecuting attorney, commissioners and himself could not provide a lease of more than five years due to the State of Ohio law and a clause in the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) agreement required by the MWCD. If we could not live with this, there was really nothing left to discuss.
We questioned Tom because our advisors interpretation of the law stated that we could lease for longer than 5 years if we had an “option to purchase” at sometime in the future. After all we had both equity investors and bridge capital at risk. Tom stated that under the MWCD arrangement an “option to purchase” would immediately trigger the MWCD sale clause which would stop any future contributions from the mineral rights because an option to purchase was deemed a sale by the MWCD and with a sale, the oil rights revert back to the MWCD. We questioned this statement and were informed neither the prosecuting attorney or the commissionaires were changing their position for fear of putting the burden on the taxpayers: take a five year lease, invest your money or no deal. This was in the first 30 minutes of our discussion.
Our approach is a long-term strategic plan that we are happy to discuss with anyone interested. For the record our plan was focused on building the Atwood resort complex to a level of business that potentially exceeded six times what it had done in the past and on a year-round basis would produce over a 60% occupancy versus the 30% occupancy data taken place previously. The end result was a business model that would potentially provide over 500 jobs and extensive career opportunities with the focus on education. To accomplish this task took approximately $5 million in capital of which we were prepared to bring $1 million in equity and $3 million in bridge loan funding to facilitate the opening process seeded by the oil royalties of now only $1 million. We have nine tenants including some of Ohio’s finest business men and companies, however, none of our lenders or equity players, let alone our tenants, would invest their human capital or their financial capital in Atwood unless the lease was longer than five years with a guarantee to renew; most required a minimum of 10 to 15 years before it was economically viable. At first we thought it was the commissioners, but it looks like it was the MWCD that imposed this short sighted approach.
We believe we could have brought 500 jobs to the Atwood region, provided a great teaching lab for KSUT and created an environment of growth that would exceed our promises. Once again MWCD has positioned this resort to, in our opinion, be doomed to failure. We listened to Commissioner Jeff Ohler. His comments bear out the fact that the MWCD is probably using Carroll County in a way that’s doomed to failure and he would not be fair and reasonable to let the taxpayers of Carroll County lose any money – the same treatment we received as well as KSUT went through. This is our third group of people who have gone through the MWCD process and each time the MWCD has positioned the resort and people trying to solve the problem, in our opinion, to fail and we believe we know why: in our opinion it is about the 20+ million dollars worth of oil and mineral rights, not the success of the resort and the community.
We worked on this project, at the request of the MWCD, for two years to create a business model that would work on a year round basis and could be funded. We had the business model approved by the MWCD within six months of starting work on the resort. They offered the resort deal to our company and actually gave the resort to us as payment of our effort in March of 2011 and five days later took it away and gave it to KSUT, who also were put through MWCD process of changes in the offerings and they as well as the State of Ohio Parks denied to take the deal.
We, along with others including our tenants, believe we have the strategic plan that will make this one of the most successful resort turnarounds in the nation. It is one thing to loose a bid if there is a team better than ours, with equal or greater resources. If there is, they deserve the deal. However to be told the county cannot accept our plan because the MWCD has a clause that states that an Option to Purchase is a sale and this stops the oil royalty payments - is not in the best interest of the Atwood Resort or the county. Ask yourself: would you put money into Atwood Resort at risk, with a five year lease with no right to renew or option to purchase? The resort is closed, lost over $800,000 in its last year of operation, has a 47-year track record of losses, had three separate management companies and the latest losses were after the MWCD had reportedly spent over $3.5 million upgrading the property in 2006 – which was taxpayer money. We still have questions on how this money was spent since there was very little to show for it.
What also bothered us was there were no questions on the significant opportunities - 500 jobs, real estate development, our nine economic zones growing to 20 zones, our integrated experiences, income, value, our company offer of options to Carroll County. Seems to us the inhabitants of Carroll County need to know the facts. After all they saved Atwood Resort from the bulldozer proposed last summer by a vote of 3 to 2 by the MWCD. Why not a discussion with the people as well as the MWCD and Carroll County Commissioners? All our investors were Carroll County Residents. This resort needs local participation in a project as large and potentially successful as The Atwood Resort.
Comments made by Commissioners Ohler and Tom Wheaton have further convinced us the MWCD does not want the resort to succeed. In our opinion, after listening to Jeff and Tom’s comments, they are correct: Carroll County may have been set up to fail. In our opinion it’s all about the mineral rights and the money not the success of the resort and the jobs and livelihood as well as the value of the county. You would think after just receiving over $50 million from oil royalties plus a 17% future royalty, the MWCD would be happy to help the county to bring in long term solutions necessary to make the resort successful and help someone else get a fair chance to succeed. We also believe, after questioning all of our associates (with experience and expertise), that the five-year rule was not meant for groups investing capital in a venture. That’s why the option to purchase is in the deal. Investors should have the first right to purchase; they took risk.
To be clear, we were never paid for our two years of effort and cost even though the MWCD used us and our information to solve their temporary circumstances. Yes, we sent a bill for the 20 months the team (11 people) worked on to bring a new business model & solution to Atwood Resort. The MWCD totally refused to pay our team anything even though they changed our method of payment six times - funding and taking over the resort, and continue to use many of the ideas developed by the team.
We want to thank all of the former employees of Atwood Resort for their help, the citizens of the area for their encouragement and commitment to invest and the hard work by the over 170 citizens who went to bat to save Atwood Resort. We gained many friends and much respect for your resort area and the wonderful experiences it has. This can become a very successful lifestyle resort complex. When CAYUGA Hospitality (an organization we are members of) was contacted by the MWCD to provide consultants to sell Atwood, we refused to act as broker since it was unsalable with the market and with its operating history. When the MWCD asked us to come up with a business model and plan for Atwood we embraced the challenge and enjoyed the relationship until, in our opinion, the OIL money took precedent over the solution to a long term best interest and purpose for Atwood Resort – we have our opinions on why!
Our team: Mark Wibel, Wibel Restaurant Group; Tim Maurer, Mukha Medi-Spa & Essentials; Bob Klopfer, Super Fitness Center; Ron Lavoie, World Class Short Game Course for learning; John Meeske, The Resort Experience Company, LLC – Resort Hotel, Club and Conference Centers; Larry Costel, PGA Fitness Association license; Matt Edwards, Akron General Wellness and Lifestyle Institute license: Gary Mandel Golf Course Company, contract; Chuck Cherney & Carole Meeske, Cherney and Associates Real Estate Experience Sales; Brian Valot, Atwood Lake Marina; KSUT – classes for students and Business Center for residents as well as leadership for Corporate Conference Center; Duke Bixler, Breitenbach Wine Cellars for wine tours, wine tasting, vineyards at Atwood; plus several developers and retail tenants, Buckeye Career Center, Carroll Hills, State Veterans program to hire Vets, Tuscarawas County Board of Developmental Disabilities; Bob Stratton and investors.
John F. Meeske
CEO (Chief “Experience” Officer)
The Resort Experience Company, LLC