|Mountain Park amuses
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
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.