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Mountain Park amuses developers' fancy

JULES CRITTENDEN

Holyoke Transcript-Telegram

Oct. 31st, 1987


HOLYOKE - The price of admission to Mountain Park could be rising drastically in the near future.

Holyoke's own amusement park is advertised in Amusement Business for sale as an amusement park, but some people doubt it will be sold as one. They speculate that it will fall prey to several of the major pressures of recent years - the cost of liability insurance versus the profits in a relatively small, high risk business: growth pressures and the rising value of land: and stiffer competition for entertainment dollars.

John. J. Collins, the park's owner, has been unavailable for comment on his plans since the decision to sell was made public about two weeks ago. A park manager then cited liability and other operating costs, but maintained that it will be sold as a park.

But other people are talking about it as one of the prime locations in western Massachusetts, ripe for development by someone with the money to pull it off. They are talking about luxury condos and office parks.

"Tell me a better piece of real estate," said William Taupier, the former Holyoke mayor who now operates a real estate agency in Lowell. He thinks the site is unmatched west of Worcester, and said he may act as an agent for a potential buyer that he wouldn't name. Taupier thinks the competition is going to be intense.

Its 248 acres are zones partially for business and partially residential with easy access to downtown Holyoke, Northampton, and Interstate 91.

Young professionals, the kind with the money to afford condos in a place like this, would have a view of the river and the valley's farmland. They could walk up the hill and go skiing, jog or walk through the woods around Whiting Street Reservoir. Or play 18 holes of golf at Wycoff Park.

Estimates of its sale value as an amusement park run at about $2 million. As real estate, the estimates run between $4 million and $10 million.

Holyoke realtor Edmund G. Woods agrees that Mountain Park will attract a lot of attention, but he thinks a second look will dampen much of it. He represented a potential buyer, whom he declined to name, about two years ago and walked the property at that time.

"To the untrained eye, it looks like the best thing in the world," he said. "To the trained eye, it is far less."

Much of the land overlooking the river is a granite ledge, difficult and costly to build on at best. To the southwest, the land is part of the reservoir's watershed, which would mean severe restrictions on building to protect the city's water supply. The sewer system that the watershed probably would make necessary would have to be blasted out of the rock.

"Its going to take some deep pockets. Not that it couldn't be done," Woods said. "I'm sure that's a piece of property that there are going to be tons of people sniffing around."

Other people and companies that have been mentioned as interested in the land include Anthony W. Ravosa and Monarch's Signature Corp.

"I can't talk about that," Ravosa said. He wouldn't comment further.

"You know more than me," said Donald Binns, president of Signature Corp. He said he wasn't aware that it is for sale. "You could have asked me something about nuclear physics. I probably would have known more about that."

"Everything is just right for something great to happen in that area," said Holyoke real estate agent Earl LaFlamme. "I don't think its general knowledge around the Commonwealth."

"No, but it sounds like fun," said Miller Blew, president of the Boston-based Bullfinch Development Group, a company named as a likely candidate. Blew said he hadn't heard about Mountain Park, and he has his hands full with Springfield's Court Square now. He isn't interested just yet.

"There's a lot of rock up there," said John T. Doyle, financial vice president at Daniel O'Connell's Sons, one of the few local companies considered large enough to take on the project. He said the company, which owns the Mount Tom Ski Resort, has its own undeveloped land on the mountain and isn't interested in Mountain Park now.

"You can do anything if people are willing to pay for it," Doyle said. He doesn't think the local housing market makes development feasible yet.

"On the other hand, things are changing," Blew said about local pessimism regarding the difficult conditions. "All of a sudden, somebody sees an opportunity in this parcel."

At Whalom Park, an amusement park in Fitchburg, Manager Francis Dower said Collins' chances to sell the park as an amusement park may be slim.

"We all have our doubts that Jay is going to be able to sell it as an amusement park," Dower said, referring to others in the amusement industry in New England.

Although it is well-maintained, Mountain Park is old, and lacks the newer, more exciting and more expensive rides that draw people, Dower said.

"He doesn't have any real spectacular pieces," Dower said. "He's got the regular rides everybody else has got."

Dower estimated Mountain Park's annual attendance at about 150,000 people and the income at between $1 million and $1.5 million. Payroll and insurance would take about half that, and maintenance much of the rest, leaving little profit and no money for improvements.

The park is also in direct competition for buyers with Hershey Lake Compounce, a larger, modern park in Connecticut now for sale, which he said would be more likely to attract amusement chains trying to move into New England.

"There's still a place for the traditional, small park," said Tim O'Brien, managing editor of Amusement Business, based in Nashville, Tenn., who pointed out that they attract a different crowd. But Mountain Park is facing pressures that are putting similar parks out of business - potential land value versus operating costs. Nationally, the number of teenagers - prime customers - is dropping, while parks have to compete with video cassette recorder and movies for family business.

"The competition for the entertainment dollar has never been greater," O'Brien said.

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