Pharos-Tribune

December 30, 2013

Worries growing about Indiana Beach's future


Pharos-Tribune

---- — MONTICELLO (AP) — 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 non-seasonal 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.

During the Juntgens' time working at the Morgan-owned Indiana Beach, she said, the park went through annual layoffs each October. These weren't seasonal employees common at summer hotspots such as Indiana Beach, she said.

Vendors — such as Coca-Cola — increasingly were paid through collect-on-delivery, Cathy Juntgen said, a payment method favored by vendors who fear that a purchasing company may default on a payment. In a COD transaction, vendors require the purchaser to pay at the time of delivery, rather than maintain a line of credit.

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.

Neither Moser nor Gallagher would elaborate on the round of layoffs the park implemented in late October, when about eight employees were let go, including Sherry Vogel, director of sales and marketing.

For four years, Vogel worked at Indiana Beach. Part of her job was to rebuild relationships with the Monticello community that were damaged in the early days of the park's new ownership.

"There were seven or eight of us that were laid off in various departments, full time," Vogel said. "It was news to me. It was shocking. There really was no reason (given)."

It was Vogel who was tasked with maintaining positive working relationships with local businesses.

For many local business owners, the town hall meeting Moser held in the early days of his ownership of the park remains the only time they've interacted with him. It's a jarring contrast to what residents were used to. Tom Spackman was accessible.

Moser said the park's attendance hasn't changed since his company took over. He declined, however, to provide any attendance figures.

Part of the concern is fueled by perceived financial troubles with Morgan RV. The company is a division of Morgan Management LLC. An online profile for Moser describes Morgan RV as operating more than $1.5 billion worth of real estate ventures.

In 2011, Morgan operated 42 RV resorts in 14 states and billed itself as the largest privately owned operator of RV parks and resorts in the country, according to an archive of the company's website.

Flash forward to present day and, after several foreclosures and the selling off of properties, the company counts just five remaining RV resorts in four states among its portfolio — including Indiana Beach.