Columbus Regional Health has purchased the former Clarion Hotel and Conference Center as a future site to better serve the medical needs of the west side of Columbus.

The hospital system, which operates Columbus Regional Hospital and is marking its 100th anniversary this year, paid $4.25 million for 20.72-acre property just off I-65, spokesman Kelsey DeClue said.

There is no immediate timeline for development of a medical facility at the west side site, she said.

The hotel opened in 1963 as a Holiday Inn at 2480 W. Jonathan Moore Pike, where it grew under the Clarion banner to include 253 guest rooms and 18 meeting rooms within its 155,658 square feet of space. The Clarion’s conference center, with a 1,000-person capacity, has hosted the area’s largest conferences and events. It was the city’s largest hotel.

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The Clarion closed Monday and was boarded up in advance of Tuesday morning’s sheriff’s foreclosure auction, when it was purchased by lien holder German American Capital Corp., which opened the sale with a $4.25 million bid. The lender was the sole bidder in a foreclosure auction that lasted 20 seconds.

The auction price was well above the $2.7 million the property was assessed for on March 15, and higher than any other bidder apparently was prepared to go.

“We recognize the Clarion Hotel, formerly the Holiday Inn, has served this community in various ways for more than 50 years. It is a very well-known and prominent site, which is why Columbus Regional Health had an interest in it,” President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Bickel said in a written statement Tuesday afternoon.

Bickel said the purchase marks another milestone for Columbus Regional Health, which has grown beyond its flagship hospital at 2400 17th St. on the city’s near-east side, including Columbus Regional Health Physicians, a network of more than 100 primary and specialty care physicians, and various other outpatient service locations.

“The west side of our community continues to experience both residential and business growth, which warrants serious consideration of healthcare service expansion in the area as well,” Bickel said. “As a health system, we continue to grow. An expansion of our services close to where our patients live and work is important to fulfilling our mission to improve the health and wellbeing of the people we serve.”

Bickel said specific plans for the property have yet to be determined, but the Columbus-based health system has identified several potential opportunities within its long-range facility planning process to best meet the needs of the patients, customers and communities that Columbus Regional Health serves.

First step in the purchase by the health system was the foreclosure sale, which drew a standing-room-only crowd of about 90 people to the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department.

The Clarion was the first of seven properties scheduled to be sold Tuesday during the foreclosure sale. After the hotel bidding was over, about half of the people in attendance left while others stayed as the other properties were put on the auction block.

The sale attracted “intense interest from some very astute business people” that included hotel operators, hotel developers, and commercial real estate people, said Cindy Frey, president of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce.

“Columbus Regional Health probably wants more visibility in such an intensely populated part of our city” Frey said. “This is prime real estate right next to an interstate highway and a busy (state) highway. It makes sense to me because we are growing as a community, so the expansion of health services would go along with that growth.”

Bickel was also among business leaders to attend the foreclosure sale, along with Marlene Weatherwax, the health system’s vice president and chief financial officer. They registered for the sale as representatives of Southeast Indiana Medical Holdings.

That entity was created decades ago after hospital board members contracted in 1984 with a nonprofit management firm, Southeastern Indiana Health Management Inc., to run the nonprofit hospital.

Southeastern Indiana Health Management Inc. served as a holding company and owns all the shares of two for-profit companies below it, Southeastern Indiana Medical Services Inc., which owns a family physician practice, and Southeastern Indiana Medical Holdings Inc., which owns Columbus Health Laboratory, L&N Medical Sales and Rental and Southeastern Medical Buildings.

Zack Ellison, chairman of the Columbus Regional Health board, said the medical holdings company is an umbrella to allow the for-profits to affiliate under the umbrella of the nonprofit hospital system, which receives no tax dollars and is self-supporting. However, this is becoming less common as more physicians affiliate directly with the hospital system, Ellison said.

Facility planning

The Clarion transaction is the second high-profile purchase of a Columbus property by the hospital system in the past 13 months. Southeastern Indiana Medical Holdings purchased The Republic’s newspaper office at 333 Second St. in late May 2016.

DeClue said the health care system is working with various community groups to help determine the best use for the former newspaper facility, with hopes of announcing some type of decision by the end of the year.

As the hospital system considers its next steps at the former Clarion property, officials are hoping to get an inventory of some of the historical items and artifacts that are tucked away inside the Clarion that date back to the time it was built, Ellison said.

Stained glass windows, some sculpture pieces, lamps and other items from Columbus business and industry that are in the hotel should be preserved, Ellison said.

“When it was built, it was called the ‘old Holiday Inn’ because so much of the building had historical elements in it,” he said.

After receiving a steady stream of inquiries about the Clarion for more than a month, auctioneer and sheriff’s sale coordinator Tammy Johnson told the auction crowd that she was surprised there was only one bidder for the facility, German American Capital Corp.

“They just shut down the competition,” said Columbus Hotel Developers owner Michael Dora said of the winning bidder.

Dodra had owned and managed the local Clarion before it went into foreclosure.

After the auction, property marketing specialist Bill Menish said all Clarion signs at the property would start to be removed.

The Clarion began a series of financial setbacks after December 2007, when Dora took out a $10 million loan from Wells Fargo to upgrade what was then a Holiday Inn Hotel assessed at $13.6 million.

But after the Columbus flood of June 2008, millions of dollars in damage were sustained by the Clarion and the hotel’s assessed value dropped below the loan amount. At that point, mortgage payments stopped.

German American Capital entered the picture after acquiring a bundled package of assets from Wells Fargo that included Clarion’s $10 million loan, said Dora, who has not been involved in the running of the Clarion since April 2016, and has had no formal contact with its current management since then, he said.

German American Capital Corp. is a separate business entity from the Jasper, Indiana-based German American Bancorp that operates a bank branch in downtown Columbus.

100-year anniversary highlights

Columbus Regional Hospital celebrated a 100th birthday earlier this year, and looked back on the achievements and successes over the decades.

The birthday was celebrated on Feb. 6, and while reflecting on the milestone, Jim Bickel — president and CEO of Columbus Regional Health, a Columbus-based network of health care providers — wondered a bit what local officials who founded Bartholomew County Hospital in 1917 might think of what the facility has become today.

It is a community-focused, regional referral health care facility serving a 10-county area, offering specialized care that is more often found in much larger metropolitan areas.

Here is a then and now look at the hospital system:

Then

32: Number of beds in Bartholomew County Hospital, which opened on Feb. 6, 1917.

25: Average number of patients admitted monthly in 1917.

351: Patients treated in the hospital’s first year.

$69,442: Final cost for the first hospital building.

Now

250,000: Number of patients Columbus Regional Health cares for each year.

2,500: Columbus Regional Health employees.

$317 million: Annual operating expenses for the health system.

— Source: Columbus Regional Health

Physician practices under the CRH umbrella

Columbus ENT and Allergy

Columbus Family Medicine

Columbus Gynecology and Adult Medicine

Columbus Internal Medicine

Columbus Pediatrics

Southern Indiana Nephrology and Hypertension

Columbus Regional Physiatry

Hospital Care Physicians

Southeastern Indiana Behavioral Services

Southeastern Indiana Cancer Care

Doctor’s Park Family Medicine

Kavelman Family Medicine

Koopman Family Medicine

Nashville Family Medicine

Neurology and Sleep Sciences

OB/GYN Associates of Columbus Regional Hospital

PromptMed

Rau Family Medicine

Sandcrest Family Medicine

Southern Indiana Heart and Vascular

Southern Indiana OB/GYN

VIMCare

Source: Columbus Regional Health

Columbus Regional milestones

1915: Bartholomew County bonds for $100,000 to construct a new hospital north of 17th Street and east of Haw Creek in Columbus.

1917: The three-story Bartholomew County Hospital opens with 32 bedsand 25 employees. Its first patients are admitted on Feb. 6.

1930: The Hattie S. Kirkpatrick Memorial Nurses Home, which is housing for nurses, is established on the northwest side of the hospital.

1945: An addition on the south wing is added, increasing hospital capacity to 75 beds.

1949: Bartholomew County Commissioners approve plans for a $780,000 expansion, increasing capacity to 129 beds.

1953: The hospital completes a $1.7 million expansion with additions including two three-story wings; the number of beds is expanded to 142.

1959: The hospital expands to add 39 more beds, remodeling the second floor and emergency areas at a cost of $911,000.

1968: $3.7 million in bonds are issued to build Murphy Pavilion, a five-story in-patient unit of 108 beds in honor of former administrator Olive Murphy, who retired in 1967 as hospital administrator after 28 years of service.

1972: The hospital opens a 10-bed intensive coronary-care unit.

1973: The hospital renovates its children’s ward.

1976-1978: Plans are announced for a $7.2 million expansion adding two floors to the Murphy Pavilion and ambulatory services, including radiology and laboratory.

1979: The hospital partners with Lifeline Helicopter in Indianapolis to provide local service.

1981: Labor and delivery rooms are established on a pilot basis.

1983: Patients are admitted to a new psychiatric ward.

1984: The hospital reclassifies as a regional referral center and a paramedic program begins.

1988: Bartholomew County Hospital and Quinco Consulting Center affiliate to expand and improve mental health services.

1990: Ground is broken on a $40 million expansion and renovation project which includes a cancer treatment center and birthing center.

1991: The hospital adopts a smoke-free policy.

1992-1994: Bartholomew County Hospital changes its name to Columbus Regional Hospital and celebrates completion of a renovation project that added new pavilions, front lobby, gift shop, dining room, physicians office building and renovations and additions to the main patient tower. The Cancer Center opens.

1995: The Breast Health Center opens in the Haw Creek Medical Office Building, and PromptMed Immediate Care Center opens on 25th Street.

1996: Volunteers in Medicine clinic opens offering health care to the uninsured and underinsured in Bartholomew County.

2001: The hospital’s website is launched.

2004: A Picture Archiving and Communications System is implemented and a new linear accelerator begins delivering radiation therapy in cancer treatment. The North Medical Office Building is built. Our Hospice of South Central Indiana opens an inpatient facility on the east end of the main hospital campus.

2008: Plans are announced for a new emergency department and patient tower. A record flood closes the hospital for five months. All employees remained on paid staff during the closure and the hospital coordinated patient care for residents in the area through surrounding regional health systems.

2011: A flood wall is build around the entire main hospital campus. The health system changes its name to Columbus Regional Health.

2012: Surgical Services begins using the da Vinci Si Robotic Surgical System.

2013: WellConnect opens in downtown Columbus. Columbus Regional Health becomes an official cosponsor of the Mill Race Marathon.

2014: Inspire Health Partners is created by a partnership through Columbus Regional Health, Schneck Medical Center and SIHO. Plans for an expanded Cancer Center and new Emergency Department are announced.

2016: The Cancer Center expansion is completed with state-of-the-art radiation equipment and physicians. The new Emergency Department is double the size of the previous facility. Volunteers in Medicine changes its name to VIMCare Clinic and opens in the former hospital emergency department space.

2017: Columbus Regional Health announces its plans to purchase the 20.7-acre former Clarion Hotel and Conference Center to better serve Columbus residents on the city’s growing west side. The hospital pays $4.25 million for the property, with no immediate timeline announced on development of the site.

— Source: Columbus Regional Health

A year-long celebration

Columbus Regional Health is celebrating its 100th anniversary with a year-long campaign with Columbus Regional Health’s 2,500 employees giving back to the community. Titled “100 Ways of Giving Back,” the hospital system is partnering with local nonprofits to provide volunteers in a variety of community projects of employees’ choosing.

The focus is on “paying it forward with every project,” said Kelsey DeClue, the hospital system’s spokeswoman.

Columbus Regional Hospital President and CEO Jim Bickel said this is the hospital system’s way of giving back, particularly in light of the community support through its first century, and also in light of the support the hospital received after the catastrophic flood of 2008, and the hospital’s efforts to rebuild and reopen.

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