Tourism officials and conference organizers are warily watching the status of Columbus largest hotel and banquet facility, wondering whether it will be able to honor hotel bookings through the summer.
The Clarion Hotel and Conference Center, located on 11.5 acres at 2480 W. Jonathan Moore Pike, has been placed back on a tax sale scheduled for 10 a.m. July 11.
Tim Foster, whose USSSA Fast Pitch Softball tournament had reserved 60 to 100 rooms at the Clarion for the Great Lakes Nationals tournament beginning July 19, said he planned to begin making calls Friday seeking alternatives. The tournament is expecting 184 teams in Columbus through July 23, from as far away as Canada and Arkansas.
“You just added to my stress level,” Foster said, when he learned the hotel and conference center has been placed back on a county tax sale list.
Because the tournament already had booked all available hotel rooms that weekend in Columbus, the organization already had started booking rooms in nearby Seymour and Franklin for some teams, but now may expand that if Clarion bookings have to be changed, he said.
In November, a Bartholomew County judge ruled that Columbus Hotel Developers Inc., which owns the Clarion, was in default on its debt and owed nearly $12.4 million.
When a foreclosure sale was initially scheduled for Jan. 10, people involved in local tourism expressed strong concern.
But just days before that sale was scheduled to take place, an Indianapolis attorney representing German American Capital Corp., which holds the mortgage, asked that the listing be taken off.
Attorneys are allowed to pull property out of a tax sale at any time without specifying a reason, said Tammy Johnson, who handles sheriff’s sale notices in Bartholomew County.
The hotel’s conference center — with a 1,000-person capacity — hosts the community’s largest indoor 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.
The Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce hosted its Women in Leadership event at The Commons downtown this year, rather than at the Clarion, where it had been held the previous three years.
Cindy Frey, chamber president, said the uncertainty about the possible foreclosure was a factor in the decision to move the event to The Commons, which holds about 20 percent fewer guests in its upstairs banquet hall than can be seated at the Clarion.
This year’s Women in Leadership event at The Commons seated 300 people, compared to 400 that attended when it was at the Clarion in 2016.
The chamber’s biggest event of the year, held March 1 this year, drew 500 people to the Clarion — more than The Commons can handle for such a function.
“We really do love having events at the Clarion,” Frey said Friday. “They have great service there and their staff — well, they are just a well-oiled machine.”
Frey said she hasn’t heard concerns directly from the business community about what might happen if the Clarion were to be sold, but did say that many local businesses use the facility for conferences and training throughout the year.
“A community needs a resource like the Clarion,” she said. “I know the Visitors Center is certainly feeling the uncertainty.”
In addition to the teams coming for the Great Lakes softball tournament in July, the Clarion is also set to host guests for the United Pentecostal Church International Convention taking place in Indianapolis on July 25 to 28, said Karen Niverson, executive director of the Columbus Area Visitors Center.
But if the facility is again pulled off the tax sale, all bookings and events will likely proceed as planned, Niverson said.
The value of the 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.
A sheriff’s sale of the foreclosed Clarion Hotel and Conference Center is scheduled for 10 a.m. July 11 at the Bartholomew County Jail, 543 Second Street.