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Shipshewana in discussions for new Town Center management

The Shipshewana Town Council and the Shipshewana Redevelopment Commission met in special session Wednesday to discuss the town’s options in running the Shipshewana Town Center. On December 12, Focus Hospitality Services, LLC, notified the town that they were terminating their contract to manage the Town Center.

Town Manager Sheryl Kelly presented the council with four possible options based on the current situation.

Option 1 was to have the town take over the operations completely, essentially making the Town Center similar to other town departments. Kelly noted that this would be a huge undertaking for the town.

The second option was to sell the car collection and building outright.

Kelly told the council that another option would be to enter into a similar management agreement with another entity that would depend on a revenue source, the Splash Universe water park and the adjacent hotel.

The fourth option got a positive reception from council members. Kelly recommended determining a market value to lease the facility and then ask for bids to take over the operations.

Kelly acknowledged that the option left a lot of questions to be answer, including how or if the building would be separated between the Town Center and the museum. Any agreement would likely be for 3-5 years with a renewal option, Kelly said, to allow the business to establish itself.

“I believe there is a lot of room for doing things differently down there and make it more appealing and useful for the community,” Kelly said.

Legal counsel Kevin Bruns told the council that one of the bigger questions for the council was what is the vision of the town for the Town Center? He recommended determining that vision and then looking for someone who can make that vision work. He told the council that they should ask around to see what people are willing to bid on – just the event center or both that and the car museum. If no one is interested, Bruns added, then the town would just be “spinning its wheels with appraisals.”

Bruns also told the council that any proposal should be set up so that the Town Center is ran the way the town is happy with, as well as at an acceptable exposure level for the town. “If they say they want to run it, but with $400,000 from the town, that’s not going to work,” Bruns said. He suggested that any agreement is structured so that the town’s expenses can be paid without worrying about the hotel.

Currently, operational expenses owed by the town are paid through the innkeepers’ tax and a $3 per person fee from the water park. In 2011, the town received approximately $91,000 from the innkeepers’ tax and around $191,000 from the water park fee. The town appropriated $335,000 for the Town Center for 2011.

The hotel and water park, owned and operated by Focus Hospitality Group, owes the county a reported $888,074 in back property taxes and $93,000 in back personal property taxes.

Kelly also discussed closing the gap on the town’s exposure for expenses at the Town Center to something more reasonable for the town.

Kelly told the council that the town has had limited conversations with two interested parties. One of those is already willing to come to the council to talk about their vision for the facility, Kelly said. She added that this could be the opportunity to increase the quality, while decreasing the costs, for the facility. She also noted that the agreement could be based on performance as well.

The council concurred to allow Kelly to continue further discussions with any entity that is interested in working with the town on the Town Center.