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Stonehouse Park faces judgment day

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012 11:52 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Rob Winner – rwinner@shawmedia.com)
Stonehouse Park owners Steve Cecchin (left) and Gregg Larson discuss the installation of a window in one of the barns Saturday morning at the campgrounds in Earlville.

DeKALB – Steve Cecchin will walk into tonight’s DeKalb County Board meeting as a co-owner of Stonehouse Park, but he might not walk out as one.

Board members will decide whether to shut down the troubled campsite and outdoor retreat at the meeting, which comes a month after they gave Cecchin and his partner, Gregg Larson, an extension to produce a loan commitment to show the park is financially secure.

The problem, Cecchin said, is that the loan commitment has not been finalized. However, he says the pieces are in place for the park to change from a concert venue that drew neighbors’ ire to a yoga retreat destination that he says could make the park more profitable than ever.

“We have the answer in our hand,” Cecchin said. “If [the board] wants to see that as the answer is the question. ... I’m confident that it is a viable solution.”

The 40-acre, Earlville-based “agritainment” venue has been caught in a whirlwind of problems in the past year, from neighbors’ complaints about late-night parties and drug use to permit violations and now financial hardships. The park property was foreclosed upon after Farmers’ and Traders’ State Bank was shut down by bank regulators.

The DeKalb County Planning and Zoning Committee told Cecchin and Larson in August that they must produce a loan commitment at tonight’s County Board meeting or face losing their special use permit and with it, their business.

Ken Andersen, R-Sycamore and chairman of the committee, said without that loan commitment it was unlikely the County Board would allow the owners to keep the permit. Andersen said an expected report at the meeting from DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott about more issues at a recent event at the park probably will not help their cause.

“They’ve made promises over promises over promises and failed to keep probably any of them,” Andersen said. “ I think we made it very clear and the board has already bent over backwards.”

Cecchin hopes his pitch will persuade members to give owners more time to implement changes they believe will be a win-win.

Under the new proposal for the park, a third partner would join the business and facilitate the change in direction for the park, Cecchin said. A Chicago-based investor who owns multiple yoga studios is coming on board and is the reason the park has the framework for a loan in place and a business plan to host as many as 30 yoga retreats, Cecchin said.

The park would bring more visitors and money to the area, he said, and move away from the music events that have caused local unrest.

“These music festivals seem to be what got everyone riled up, and we never really wanted to focus on those events anyway ... but we needed to pay our bills,” Cecchin said. “There is no smoking, drinking or late-night activities allowed at these yoga events and we can accommodate much more of those compared to music events. I firmly believe it’s in the best interest of everyone.”

Should the County Board revoke the park’s permit, all business must stop immediately, but Cecchin said he would seek another permit in February – when the current permit is set to expire.

If the owners reapplied after being shut down by the county, Andersen said he would maintain an open mind and consider it even though the history with the park has been a struggle. He said the economic potential it holds is too great to ignore.

The park attracted roughly 12,000 people to the area in 2011.

“It has the potential for good tourism and economic development down there,” Andersen said. “But they would really have to convince me they changed their way of doing business and their whole attitude of running that place.”

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