Columbus’ largest hotel is heading to auction, cancelling reservations

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COLUMBUS, Ind. -- A 253-room hotel and its large convention center are set to close their doors. The Clarion Hotel and Convention Center, which opened in 1963, is scheduled to be auctioned off on July 11.

The Columbus Area Visitor Center's executive director, Karen Niverson, says the hotel has already begun canceling reservations that were booked for after the sheriff's auction date.

"I think there are a set of circumstances that have brought this particular property to the point that it is but it's certainly not a lack of business," Niverson said.

The hotel accounts for a little more than 15 percent of all the hotel rooms in Bartholomew County, a big loss for a city usually known for steady economic growth. The rooms might not even be the biggest loss.

"The Clarion property is a significant portion of the hotel rooms we have here so that's going to be a loss," said Niverson. “I think the greatest loss is going to be the conference hotel aspect that we are going to lose in our community."

The convention center is the largest expo space in the city and if the buyer doesn't keep the building for its current use, tourism and city leaders will have to change expectations on the events the city can snag.

"There is going to be some pieces of business we can't bid on that we won't be bringing to town," Niverson said. "For the time being, we see that could be an issue but I believe the demand in this market is strong enough that if this hotel property is not purchased by an investor who wants to continue operating it as a lodging facility then we'll see development in this community that will come in and fill that need."

Niverson says the largest event in the city just happened when softball teams across the state came to town for a weekend tournament.  Roughly 160 softball teams will arrive on July 19 for Great Lakes Championships and some teams have had to be housed elsewhere with the Clarion closing before the first pitch.

“Most of those have been able to stay in the county but we definitely have placed some folks in some surrounding counties," said Niverson. "No one is more than 45 minutes away."

The convention center could be the hardest to replace if the building is used for something else. The city already has as many as 90 hotel rooms on the way with the addition of a Fairfield Inn, which is scheduled to open later this year.

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