Worries growing about Indiana Beach's future

2013-12-29T17:31:00Z 2013-12-29T20:10:06Z Worries growing about Indiana Beach's futureMIKEL LIVINGSTON Journal & Courier nwitimes.com
December 29, 2013 5:31 pm  • 

MONTICELLO, Ind. | Will Indiana Beach, central Indiana's beloved summer attraction, open next summer, as it has every year for the past 87 seasons?

The company that purchased the amusement park in 2008, Morgan Recreation Vacations, says the answer is an unequivocal "yes."

"I've only been there as general manager a couple years, but these rumors crop up every year at this time," Indiana Beach General Manager Bob Gallagher told the Journal & Courier. "We're planning for the 2014 season and actually looking forward to announcing some expansions."

But some Monticello business owners and former employees of the park — including relatives of Tom Spackman, the late, longtime park owner — aren't so sure. They tell of layoffs of nonseasonal employees inside the park, utilities shut off for lack of payment and souring relationships between the park and Monticello-area businesses. Across the country, other Morgan RV-owned parks and facilities have been sold or fallen into foreclosure, raising local anxieties even further.

"They destroyed, in one year, what the Spackmans developed in 85 years," said Steve Juntgen, a former park employee and one of Tom Spackman's sons-in-law.

Hanging in the balance — apart from fond memories and summertime diversions — is an estimated $60 million that Indiana Beach pumps into the Monticello economy each year.

"It's a hard time for us as a community because we lost (Tom) Spackman this year," said Janet Dold, executive director of the Monticello Chamber of Commerce, referring to Spackman's death in November at the age of 100. "The tradition of Indiana Beach and the legacy of it is in the forefront of our minds. When we do hear rumors, it's unsettling."

Despite those rumors, Morgan RV CEO and owner Bob Moser, of Sarasota, N.Y., said any talk of financial trouble related to Indiana Beach or Morgan RV is false. Beyond that, Moser said, it's just plain frustrating.

"At times, it feels like you're getting kicked in the knees," Moser said of the rumors. "We're trying, we really are. ... You're not going to make everyone happy, but I'm trying here."

Earl Spackman founded Ideal Beach on Lake Shafer in 1926. In 1945, Thomas Spackman, his son, took over. He changed the name to Indiana Beach seven years later.

During his tenure, Spackman secured the park's place as the major funnel of tourist dollars into the Monticello economy.

Spackman announced his intent to sell the park in 2001, said Cathy Juntgen, one of his two daughters and Steve Juntgen's wife.

"It took a long time to find a buyer," Cathy Juntgen said. "We had maybe three or four other people interested. Unfortunately, we didn't know Morgan that well — and their situation. Unfortunately, they ended up being the buyers."

The sale, for an unspecified sum, was announced in 2008. At the time, Tom Spackman called it a "good deal for the community."

Included in the deal was a guarantee that Cathy Juntgen would be employed at the park for at least a year after the sale. She was a campground manager with the company before being laid off, along with her husband, in October 2010. She was rehired the following year.

Juntgen eventually quit last May, saying her job had become less about campground management and more about "collection and sales."

"I feel like they're sacrificing customer service for the almighty dollar," Cathy Juntgen said. "Especially last year. They had the electricity turned off due to lack of payment. The cable was turned off. I worked a stint with no computers. How do you work and check people in when you don't have computers?"

Moser, the CEO, denies there are any financial problems with the park. Without disclosing an exact dollar figure, he said he's invested "multimillion" dollars into Indiana Beach this year and that in 2014 the park will debut several features that he's not yet prepared to announce. He said the company has invested $15 million in the park since purchasing it five years ago.

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