Idora Park's owners consider toppling roller coasters By BRENDA J. LINERT and JOE GORMAN Tribune Chronicle YOUNGSTOWN Already contemplating city-imposed deadlines for cleanup of asbestos-filled debris left after Idora Park's historic ballroom burned to the ground Monday, park owners also are considering demolition of the property's remaining roller coasters. "There are numerous groups that have been trying to prevent us from tearing down the (park's attractions)," park owners' attorney Matthew J. Blair said Friday. "We have offered to allow them to take the roller coasters down as long as they funded it and had proper insurance and bonding. At this point, we are going to have to probably, this summer, demolish the remaining roller coasters." Blair represents Mount Calvary Pentecostal Church, which purchased the 26-acre amusement park in 1985. After falling behind on the property taxes, the church lost the property in a foreclosure and sheriff's sale a few years later, but repurchased it in 1994. Idora Park had closed for good in 1984 due to poor attendance and a fire that damaged the Wildcat roller coaster. Part of that wooden structure still stands, along with its sister coaster, the Jack Rabbit, which has been saved from three devastating fires at the park, including the one on Monday that destroyed the adjacent grand ballroom. "Like everybody else, as a child we went to Idora Park and I think we are going to miss the park, but it's really been gone a long time," Blair said on behalf of the church's pastor, who was out of town Friday and unavailable for comment. "If somebody could come up with the necessary funds to move the coasters and would have the necessary insurance and bonding, we would welcome that. "Right now we have immediate steps that need to be taken with the ballroom structure. That will probably involve tearing down the roller coasters as well," Blair said. According to the book "Idora Park: The Last Ride of Summer," by Youngstown State University professor Rick Shale and Charles J. Jacques Jr., the Jack Rabbit roller coaster first opened with the name "Dip-the-Dips" in 1914. It had a 4,000-foot-long track constructed of yellow pine and went an average of 23 mph. Ten years later, the park remodeled the coaster, adding a new 63-foot first drop and renaming it the Jack Rabbit. The Wildcat roller coaster opened for the first time with the 1930 season. With its tunnels and banked curves, it has been called one of the greatest coasters built in the 1920s. Park rides and equipment were put up for public auction Oct. 20 and 21, 1984, months after the gates had closed for good. Neither the Wildcat nor the Jack Rabbit was sold, but cars from both were auctioned off. Youngstown city Councilman Michael Rapovy, D-5th Ward, who serves the area of Idora Park, said he has met with city officials recently about the possibility of tearing down at least the Wildcat roller coaster, along with its two adjacent buildings. He said the buildings are a safety hazard because of their rotting, wooden floors. "A child could die in one of them and you wouldn't know until their bones were discovered," Rapovy said. Meanwhile, Blair said park owners have entertained an offer from officials at western Pennsylvania's Conneaut Lake Park wanting to relocate the wooden Jack Rabbit roller coaster to Pennsylvania. On Friday, Gene Rumsey, a trustee at Conneaut Lake Park, acknowledged that past operators at the park had contemplated relocating the Jack Rabbit from Youngstown to Conneaut Lake, but that idea was no longer an option due largely to the costs involved. "We wouldn't be able to do that. We don't have the money," Rumsey said. "We have put in three new rides this year, (but) nothing of that magnitude." Blair said Mount Calvary has not actively marketed the coasters but would not rule out offers by others to disassemble and move them. "We were certainly willing to allow them to do that," Blair said. "We are going to pay substantial costs in demolishing roller coasters. If somebody was willing to come in, we would not charge them to take the roller coasters." Already hurting for cash and located in an economically depressed area, Blair said raising the funds to pay for cleanup of the asbestos-laced ashes from the ballroom blaze could create a huge financial burden. This week, Youngstown's Deputy Director of Housing and Demolition Michael Damiano, sent a letter instructing the church to begin cleanup within 21 days. Damiano said the church must retain a certified asbestos consultant to supervise the work and must immediately erect temporary fencing around the hazardous area. Blair said he has not yet spoken to the church's pastor but did not believe the ballroom was covered by fire insurance. In a phone conversation Friday, Damiano estimated that cleanup of the asbestos-contaminated remains would cost more than $100,000. Prior to Monday's fire, Damiano and other city officials, dissatisfied with the church's response to their requests to secure the area, had begun gathering price bids for asbestos removal and demolition of the building. He said the average demolition bids ranged from $80,000 to $100,000 with asbestos removal ranging from about $110,000 to $135,000. Councilman Rapovy agreed that access to the park was easy. "People would call me up and they'd ask me if Idora Park had reopened because there were so many kids running around in there," he said. That is compounded by the fact that the park's main entrance is a long way off a main road, Rapovy said. Rapovy said he was in the ballroom just two weeks before the fire checking on a resident's complaint to police that a man was in the ballroom. "It wasn't in that bad a shape inside," he said. "Structurally, it looked pretty good." There were signs of life in the basement, Rapovy said. He and the officers found a couch that looked to be well-used. "It looked like someone was frequenting it," he said. However, Rapovy said any efforts to maintain the property or keep people out were useless because it is up to the owners of the property to see to those problems. Blair said attempts by the owners to secure the building often were fruitless because vandals and vagrants quickly would remove boards from windows and doors there. Andrew Thompson, a spokesman from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency in Columbus, said the agency has been in touch with the local pollution control agency and also will monitor cleanup of the fire site. Thompson said there is no state-imposed deadline on cleaning up asbestos-contaminated areas, but the owners will be required to submit an outline of their cleanup plan and must keep the location constantly wet. "The real concern is that if they leave the material in this vacant building without really doing anything soon, this material is going to dry out," Thompson said. When that happens, he said it could become airborne, presenting a possible health risk to people in the area. The church group has long had plans to convert the park property to a religious complex. Rapovy also said he would like to meet with Wagner to discuss the park's future, noting it is located in one of the few areas of the city that can be termed scenic, which could be attractive to prospective buyers. "That's very good land right there," Rapovy said. "There's a lot of potential for that property." Blair agreed, noting that once the property is cleared, Mount Calvary owners would explore all possibilities, including using outside developers to help make their dream a reality. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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