Westward Shores Campers Fill Information Void

Ossipee – September 18, 2009 – As the clock ticks toward another court date in the Westward Shores bankruptcy proceeding, some campers there say they are still in the dark about issues ranging from deposits on next year’s season to ownership of their camping units if the property is sold or liquidated.

To close the information gap, a grassroots camper-to-camper effort has taken root online led by an individual using the screen name “Westy.”

Last week Westy released the news that a judge in the case will hear a motion on October 6 which, if approved, would allow the campground’s lenders, a Florida real estate group, to proceed with the foreclosure auction that was put on hold when owners Charlie Smith and Anthony Aversa filed for bankruptcy in July.

Attached to Westy’s email was a copy of the lenders’ court filing, which alleges that the situation at the big lake business has deteriorated since summer due to a shortfall in deposits for next year, insufficient available working capital and a lack of progress on the required restructuring plan.

The lenders also assert that the campground’s debt exceeds the property’s liquidated asset value by several million dollars, and the business has approximately $144,000 in tax liens against it, a fact previously unreported in the press.

For long-time campers at the family-oriented business, it was troubling news. But it’s the kind of information Westy says campers need to have before making decisions on matters such as whether to make payments toward next season or wait to see if the business is sold, a tactic that could cause them to be evicted.

Judging from comments posted on Ossipee Lake Alliance’s website, many campers agree that having bad news is preferable to having no news, which is what some say has emanated from the campground’s front office since the end of summer.

“Luckily the campers have had a generous person named ‘Westy’ that has kept them informed of the bankruptcy process via email these last two months,” reads a comment by a poster called “Sarah.”

“Smith & Aversa have refused to keep campers informed, and have been as rare around the campground as the spotted owl,” she added.

Anonymous Sources
Although the material being circulated online comes from the court and is considered to be public information, Westy and others involved in circulating it say they decided to use screen names because they fear retaliation from the owners if their identities are revealed.

What they do want to be known, however, is their motivation.

“As always, we will continue to do what WWS Management refuses to do….and that is to keep you, the camper, fully informed of this serious issue,” reads a statement in one of Westy’s recent emails.

But others, including campground co-owner Charlie Smith and manager John Hardie, see a different motive and a different reason for the posters to remain anonymous.

In an interview this summer, Smith said he believes some of the posters are disgruntled former campers who are out to harm the business, noting that positive comments posted about the business are immediately attacked and shouted down. Both men say they think some of the posters are using multiple screen names to create the impression of a larger group.

This summer, Smith and Hardie encouraged campers to meet with them one-on-one to discuss their concerns. They say many campers did so, and they answered questions as openly as possible considering the issues in question are part of a court case.

But some observers say offering to meet with individuals was the wrong approach to a situation that had already reached the boiling point. They say the owners should have addressed rumors and put campers’ concerns to rest by holding a general meeting and giving everyone the same information and an opportunity to ask questions in an open forum.

Contentious Communications
Communication between the campers and the owners has been tense, at least online, since mid-May after returning campers received a memo stating that campsites would be sold as condominium units. The memo said interested campers, many of whom have had the same sites for years, had only until June 1 to make a refundable deposit on their site or risk losing it.

Co-owner Charlie Smith credited the condo idea to long-time campers who had made improvements to their sites and wanted equity in their investment. But his explanation prompted an immediate backlash, with angry campers claiming a majority had no interest in the plan and accusing Smith of hiding the campground’s deteriorating financial condition.

“It is no secret that the place is about ready to go belly up and this is a mad dash to get cash into the owner’s hands,” wrote online poster “Rachael E,” one of a number of people who correctly predicted that a financial crisis was brewing.

Two weeks later, campers learned that the business, which is one of the lake’s largest enterprises, would be sold at a foreclosure auction on July 10. The disclosure was made not by the owners or the lenders, but by a camper who spotted a notice in the Boston Globe and circulated it online.

Smith responded to the revelation by saying the issues with the lender were “already resolved” and campers “should not be worried.” But worry they did, with a new flurry of online postings claiming that the owners were working on a bankruptcy filing to forestall the auction. On July 9 their prediction proved to be accurate.

Withholding Deposits

While the online mailings to campers have occurred sporadically throughout the summer, they increased in frequency with the approach of the September 1 deadline for starting next season’s payments. Some campers publicly announced they would withhold payments and urged others to do the same.

Whether that has happened is unclear. According to the lenders’ court motion, filed this month, the collection of next year’s fees was $43,300 behind budget in mid-August, “evidencing a serious deterioration in [the] customer base.” In an email to the Alliance, Westy claimed almost half of those who want to return next year have skipped their first payment, although some have already paid for the full season.

A call to the lender’s legal counsel was not returned, and campground officials declined to comment on the camper payment situation for this article.

In addition to next year’s payments, some campers say they are worried about the fate of their camp units, many of which have been modified over the years with additions and improvements. They say they fear a new owner could claim them if the business is sold or liquidated.

Making matters worse, some say they have been unable to sell their units even at steep discounts. The Westward Shores website listed 31 units for sale as of September 15, many with reduced prices.

The U.S. Bankruptcy Court will hear the lenders’ motion for relief from the temporary stay of the foreclosure auction at 8:30 a.m. on October 9. The deadline for the owners to file an objection is September 29.

18 Comments

  1. Morse Code 12 years ago September 18, 2009

    In response to the comment regarding withholding of next years deposit. Many of us that have paid found out about the motion scheduled for Oct. 6th and put a stop on check just in time and/or reversed credit charge. Given the current financial climate it is worth the risk of being thrown out. If Charlie starts evicting campers that want to stay but need to feel more secure before paying anymore money he would only be hurting his chances of succeeding in bankruptcy. Don’t be intimidated by him or his management, they are not in a position to throw out campers.

  2. sarah 12 years ago September 18, 2009

    Existing campers do not have to fear that new owners would claim existing sites or additions. What campers need to fear is that new owners will have no financial or legal obligation to honor any payments made to a defunct WWS. When WWS goes Chapter 7 and new owners come in they can set their own new rates, charge everyone once again for a full year and in a worst case scenario, empty the campground to perform major repairs or renovations. Remaining campers only remediation is to file as debtors and hope that after the estate is liquidated the is anything left to receive a partial refund. Unfortunately the latest financial postings show that the escrow fund obviously doesn’t even have enough cash to offer full refunds, if the Bank even chose to give refunds out of an account they have a right to claim for themselves! By the way, no surprise that once again Campground Management has nothing to comment about. They were probably too busy writing out checks to Lord knows who!
    My prediction? WWS converts to Chapter 7 prior to the November 6th restructuring hearing.

  3. hardee-har-har 12 years ago September 19, 2009

    fear not fellow campers…IF we get new owners they surely wont be like the money grubbing fool that we have now…..the only way anyone would clean out the campground is if they could build here and we know that wont happen because its in a flood plain….and think about it would new owners want to tick off all thats left here and lose more campers…i think not….we have been so used to having LORD CHARLES that we seem to be suspect of all possible owners

  4. sarah 12 years ago September 19, 2009

    Hardee-har-har…you are 100% in your observations, as usual. Boy, is it windy and cool up here at camp today….and very lonely! Looks like all the campers that are holding out on their payment are also staying home this weekend. But of the few that are up here, the question of the weekend is a hoot: Just who is love-child are we paying for in Rhode Island??? Inquiring minds want to know!!!!

  5. jackattack 12 years ago September 19, 2009

    Here to set things straight. Most times these motions for relief stay are granted and the lender will have its foreclosure auction. If the lender wins the property at the auction (99% of the time), NO ONE is getting kicked out. If you paid money to Charley for next year it will be honored. The lender will go after Mr. Smith hard for any stolen money as he is personally guaranteeing the mortgage. Hopefully though you haven’t and when new management takes over they will get the benefit of having you there as a camper. The lender will do what is best for the property including any necessary repairs of deferred maintenance maybe even improving things a bit. Makes sense because the better the campground does, the more its worth and that’s what the lender wants.

  6. sarah 12 years ago September 19, 2009

    Hopefully Jack your scenario is the end result, as it would result in the best outcome for the remaining campers. And those campers that have wisely withheld payment will also be happy to learn that their courage helped hasten the departure of the present management! And yes, there is no doubt there are a number of interested indivduals that are perusing the financial matters at WWS. Methinks that before this is all over the campers are really going to get the last “har-dee-har-har”! Hmm, I wonder how much collateral the Bank will ever recover…I am sure that there are more than a few campers willing and ready to point the Bank in the right direction…if they are not already doing so 😉

  7. sarah 12 years ago September 19, 2009

    Oh my gosh, I know this is off topic but I just had to share this. Right after I posted Westy stopped by the camper (I thought she had gone home as they are winterizing soon) and told me this story! She went out last night for supper and decided to go right into the Lion’s Den…yep, she went to Sammy’s! Charlie had his arch enemy right under his roof and didn’t even realize it! They only had one drink, they really don’t like the food or atmosphere there, then they went over to Song Bird (for an excellent meal and drinks as usual) and had a good laugh! Charlie, you missed your golden chance once again!!!

  8. hardee-har-har 12 years ago September 21, 2009

    westy if you leave who is going to keep us posted on the shenanigans here

  9. westy 12 years ago September 21, 2009

    Not to worry hardee-har-har, while we will be finished getting the camper put to bed for the winter this week, we will keep you all informed. Like many others this season, we opted out of paying for winter camping and passed on a boat slip, keeping our first quarter payment to a bare minimum. We also boycotted the store and gas pumps this season. However, in spite of alleged disguised WWS management claims here, we have an e-mail network with several dozen campers participating regularly and passing along valid information. We will continue to forward this information to all campers on the e-mail list and forward appropriate concerns to the authorities when necessary.

    Yes Sara, it was amusing going into the lion’s den Friday! It hurt though, just having to give this individual a few bucks for the pleasure.

    Finally we wholeheartedly agree with Jack. It is our opinion that this debacle is quickly coming to an end, and hopefully we will be dealing directly with either new owners or the Bank in the very near future. Hopefully whoever assumes control of the Park retains the services of Mark D. Mark has been under tremendous pressure these last months, but always kept his chin up and was as honest with us as possible, risking the wrath of Charlie each and anytime he tried to answer our many pointed questions. We can’t even begin to imagine the strain this man must be under, particularly now that we know of all the events that have transpired behind the scenes, events clearly detailed in the public documents I have circulated to the camp.

    Thank you so much Mark & Nancy D. (we can never spell that last name correct!)

  10. OH WELL' 12 years ago September 21, 2009

    FYI. Not to ruin anyones hopes but. I have heard just minutes ago, Chas is going to pull this off. He is being backed by another who recently stepped forward to help him out. So here we go again for another rollercoaster ride 2010 @ WWS. I guess snowmobile season will be fun though!

    Sorry to be the bearer of somewhat bad news.. “atleast we have another year that we know of”

    I dont have any further info for anyone sorry.

  11. OH WELL' 12 years ago September 21, 2009

    Look at it like this also, Atleast we will be entertained for atleast another year by you know who, The one and only SARAH!!!!! She ranks up there like the “Days of our life” oh I forgot Days of our life is GONE after 75 precious years. Ill go tend to my Apple Crisp now!

    Thanks to Westy.

  12. westy 12 years ago September 21, 2009

    Actually that is an old rumor that has circulated since the bankruptcy began. It usually originates from one of the “party” camps that are located out around the old dump and the bath house. If you want misinformation, that’s the place to get it!

    We shall see, the clock is ticking!

  13. Amused 12 years ago September 21, 2009

    You guys crack me up. Not sure how you got to be this old without Westy and Sarah holding your hands. You have got to be out of your minds to take financial advice from two people who clearly are in it for the gossip. Posting about getting a phone call telling of Westy going to Sammy’s? How immature can you get? I take what they say with a grain of salt. They didnt even ask people if it was okay to be put on their email list. They just assumed that they were welcome to do so. Most people have them going to the spam folder. LOL I must admit it has been entertaining watching the Three Stooges minus one in action though.

    Also, suggesting that people make a donation to this site is unethical to say the least. Accepting the donations is even worse.

  14. westy 12 years ago September 21, 2009

    Sorry amused, the mailing list is now 181 names long with new people being added each week and not a single individual asking to be removed! Ah, the three stooges. Yep, Charlie, Tony and John. What is amusing is being lectured by that crew on ethics! 😉

    Hear that noise in the background? It’s the clock….it keeps on tickin’!

    Westy

  15. Amused 12 years ago September 21, 2009

    You guys just dont know when to stop talking. ROFL

  16. westy 12 years ago September 21, 2009

    And you guys just don’t know how to treat your customers or manage even a basic business model, hence your cash flow problem that helped lead to bankruptcy. Really ROFL!

    Westy 🙂

  17. hardee-har-har 12 years ago September 22, 2009

    oh sure MR. AMUSED.i’m sure there are hundreds of people lined up to back such a loser with their hard-earned money. they just can’t wait to invest. oh well as p.t. barnum once said “there is a sucker born every minute”

  18. Mr. Smith 12 years ago September 22, 2009

    Wait to see what all of you have coming. LOL

    Me!