Workers began boarding up entrances and windows to the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center, the city’s largest hotel, 24 hours before today’s scheduled foreclosure auction.

A sign advertising the hotel’s looming sale had been posted for weeks outside the facility at 2480 W. Jonathan Moore Pike on Columbus’ west side. But Monday morning, the reality of pending change was hammered home when large sheets of plywood were nailed over conference center entrances and the parking lot was blocked off.

A sign notified walk-up customers that the Clarion was “closed until further notice,” accompanied by an apology for any inconvenience the action may have caused.

The hotel has boasted 253 guest rooms and 18 meeting rooms within its 155,658 square feet of space, located on 20.72 acres of land just off Interstate 65.

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The Clarion’s conference center, with a 1,000-person capacity, has hosted the area’s largest conferences and events, which local tourism officials said contributed significantly to the local economy — including payroll for 200 employees.

A single employee was staffing the front desk to answer incoming telephone calls shortly before noon Monday. But people who were neither vendors or employees were politely asked to leave the property for liability purposes, a hotel representative said.

Lien-holder German American Capital Corp. of New York City likely took those security steps as a means of protecting its investment, said sale coordinator Tammy Johnson of the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s department, which conducts sheriff’s foreclosure sales in the county.

The man hired to market the foreclosure auction, Bill Menish of the Louisville-based SVN Ward Commercial Group, said he was told to prepare for a large turnout at today’s 10 a.m. auction inside the Jimmie McKinney Conference and Training Room on the northwest corner of the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department, 543 Second St.

Far more inquiries about the Clarion have been made by potential buyers than expected, including interest from a substantial number of hotel owners and developers, Johnson said.

Inquiries have been coming from all over the country since January, and have been especially steady over the past month, she said.

The value of the property, assessed at $13.6 million just prior to sustaining extensive flood damage in June 2008, dropped to $2.7 million on March 15 of this year, according to county tax records.

In November, a Bartholomew County judge ruled that Columbus Hotel Developers Inc., owner of the Clarion, was in default on its debt and owed nearly $12.4 million.

Michael Dora, whose father Robert built the hotel in 1963 as a Holiday Inn and who is owner of Columbus Hotel Developers, said he has not been involved in running of the Clarion since April 2016, and has had no formal contact with its current management for more than a year.

Auction format

Rather than the fast-moving pace of traditional auctions, the hotel foreclosure sale will be handled in a slow, business-like style to allow every step to be accurately documented, Menish said.

While registered bidders will be given bidding cards or paddles, the plaintiff — German American — will be allowed to submit the first bid on the Clarion, the first among several Bartholomew County properties scheduled to be sold today, Johnson said.

Although the next bidder can go up by as little as one dollar, all subsequent bids will be required to be in at least $100 increments, she said. If a large number of bidders show up as anticipated, those bids will likely go higher than $100, she said.

As a condition of the sale, the successful bidder must agree to have the full amount in either cash or a certified bank draft deposited no later than 3 p.m. today, she said.

No matter how high the bids go, the sheriff’s department will receive the same $200 fee it has always received, Johnson said.

All back property taxes for the Clarion have been paid in full, a requirement for the sheriff’s sale to proceed, said Dianna Robertson of the Bartholomew County Treasurer’s office.

While those taxes, which includes the upcoming fall installment, were paid in the name of Columbus Hotel Developers, Robertson said she cannot confirm who actually made the payments.

If potential bidders mistakenly try to enter the hotel complex prior to this morning’s sale, they will encounter traffic cones at the entrance, as well as representatives who will direct them to the downtown sheriff’s sale, Menish said.

While there is uncertainly about the hotel’s future, service agencies that help the hungry and the homeless received a windfall from the Clarion on Monday.

About 1,200 pounds of foodstuffs and toiletries donated by the Clarion will be used at Love Chapel, the Brighter Days Housing temporary shelter and hot meal sites around the community, said Elizabeth Kestler, executive director of Love Chapel, through the Ecumenical Assembly of Bartholomew County Churches.

Two pickup truck loads of food and toiletries were donated, Kestler said. Much of the food is in large food service cans and will be divided among the hot meal sites, while a donation of liquid eggs will go to Brighter Days Housing for its breakfasts, she said. Other items will go to Love Chapel’s food pantry, she said.

Foreclosure auction

The Clarion Hotel and Conference Center, 2480 W. Jonathan Moore Pike, Columbus, is scheduled to be sold 10 a.m. today inside the Jimmie McKinney Conference and Training Room on the northwest corner of the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department, 543 Second St.

The hotel will be sold to the high bidder, which must provide the  full amount in either cash or a certified bank draft deposited no later than 3 p.m. today.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.