A planned sheriff’s sale of Bartholomew County’s largest hotel and banquet facility next week has been canceled.

A representative of Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, an Indianapolis law firm, notified the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department on Wednesday morning that the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center should be removed from Tuesday’s list of properties to be auctioned.

The law firm represents New York-based German American Capital Corp., which holds the mortgage on the hotel property. A Bartholomew County judge had ruled in November that Columbus Hotel Developers Inc., which owns the Clarion, was in default on its debt and owed nearly $12.4 million.

Tammy Johnson, who handles sheriff’s sale notices in Bartholomew County, said she removed the Clarion — located on 11.5 acres at 2480 W. Jonathan Moore Pike — from Tuesday’s list of properties to be sold.

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Attorneys are not required to give a reason for removing a property from the sheriff’s sale list and courts allow them to pull property out of a sale at any time, Johnson said.

If the attorneys ask for the property to be put back on the sales list, a request will be sent to Bartholomew Circuit Court, which ruled on the Clarion foreclosure, and then notice will be sent to the sheriff’s department, she said.

If the Clarion were to be put back on the list, the earliest it could be rescheduled is March 14, Johnson said.

Sheriff’s foreclosure sales are conducted the second Tuesday of each month in Bartholomew County. State law requires three legal advertisements notifying the public of a foreclosure sale.

A representative for attorney Louis T. Perry of Faegre Baker Daniels said she was checking with him about the cancellation.

Jim Knauer, an attorney with the law firm of Kroger, Gardis & Regas LLP, representing Columbus Hotel Developers Inc., owners of the Clarion, released a statement that he was unaware of the cancellation and did not know the reason for it.

Waves of concern spread throughout the Columbus community this week after customers learned that the Clarion was in default on mortgage payments and was ordered by a judge to be sold 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Bartholomew County Jail.

The hotel’s conference center — with a 1,000-person capacity — hosts some of the community’s largest gatherings, including business conferences, not-for-profit fundraisers and wedding receptions. The hotel typically books events up to a year in advance and has 253 guest rooms.

Stacy Findley, director of Family School Partners, said Tuesday that she was surprised to hear about the Clarion’s financial difficulties. The foreclosure auction had been set just four days before the agency’s biggest fundraiser of each year, when $80,000 to $100,000 has been raised.

Family School Partners and Children Inc. share proceeds from the popular “Dancing with the Stars — Columbus Style” event, which is booked at the Clarion for performances at 2 and 8 p.m. Jan. 14. Guests pay $20 for tickets to the matinee show and $40 for the evening performance, while also donating money to vote for their favorite dancers, a dance professional paired with a community leader.

Event partner Family School Partners is marking its 29th anniversary in providing home visits for parents of preschool children to provide information about parenting, discipline, education, community events and connecting families to community resources. Children Inc. has been working to provide quality affordable child care in the Columbus community since 1968, serving families from various socioeconomic and diverse backgrounds.

With the sale canceled, there is no legal reason to suggest that events scheduled at the Clarion through mid-March would now be in jeopardy.

However, Amy Moses, the Columbus Clarion’s director of operations, declined to comment on the foreclosure or the potential impact on customers.

“We’re still continuing in the planning mode,”¬†Findley said.

Other venue events

The Republic, a sponsor for “Dancing with the Stars — Columbus Style,” has booked the Clarion for its 22nd annual Bridal Fair, set for Jan. 29.

Publisher Chuck Wells said he had looked into back-up options for the bridal show, but preferred to stay with the Clarion, with its ample space to handle the 60-vendor bridal fair.

If the foreclosure auction were to be rescheduled, it would create a dilemma for the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, chamber president Cindy Frey said.

“We have one event in particular that really isn’t going to be able to be shoe-horned into another venue,” she said, referring to the chamber’s annual meeting, now set for May 1 at the Clarion.

“We may have to get really creative,” Frey said of the possibility of finding another location for the annual event.

Frey pointed out that the chamber’s revenue is generated through a combination of sponsorships and ticket sales, and the size of a venue contributes to the chamber’s ability to grow an event every year.

Those proceeds help augment the chamber’s membership dues and provide high quality service to its members, she said.

“I’m hopeful it (the Clarion) will continue to be in operation,” Frey said. “The Clarion has been a wonderful supporter of the chamber.”

Frey described the Clarion’s banquet staff as a well-oiled machine with some staff members having 20 or more years of experience in the banquet business.

“These are some really talented people, and I would hope they would be able to continue to use their talents here,” she said. “They do a great job.”

Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop described the Clarion as an attractive property that someone will eventually purchase, but the city needs to be patient and let the legal process take its course. Until that process is completed, there isn’t anything the city can do, he said.

“It’s a shame. I’m convinced we’ve got a strong economy here that will support hotel occupancy and I believe there’s a place in the market for the Clarion,” he said. “It would appear that there’s just too much debt in it.”

Loss in property value

The value of the Clarion property was assessed at $2.75 million on May 10, 2016, down from a $13.6 million value it was assessed at in 2008, just three months before the historic 2008 flood that caused significant damage to the facility.

The original Holiday Inn that eventually became the Clarion was built 53 years ago and has been upgraded over the years. A large Holidome and swimming pool complex were added in 1976 and additional expansions and renovations came in 1978 and 1981. The 20,000-square-foot conference center opened in 1989.

Bartholomew County venues do offer other options, although not as big, including banquet space on the second floor of The Commons.

Some Columbus companies, churches and businesses use the Seasons Lodge in Nashville — the largest in neighboring Brown County, with 5,888-square-feet in conference space and an additional 2,400-square feet in the hotel.

The Nashville facility is typically booked a year in advance for the fall months, but the rest of the year books events into the next three months, sales manager Carol Fitzgerald said. Cummins Inc. is among the customers that have used the Nashville facility.

Pull Quote

“I’m convinced we’ve got a strong economy here that will support hotel occupancy and I believe there’s a place in the market for the Clarion.”

— Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop

Author photo
Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.