Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Local News

January 22, 2012

Unpaid taxes has Shipshewana's Splash Universe on the auction block

SHIPSHEWANA — One of Shipshewana’s year-round tourist attractions has a tax problem.

The owners of the Splash Universe water park and adjacent 154-room Amish Country Inn, owe LaGrange County about $768,000 in unpaid property taxes. The unpaid assessment has local people worried and wondering what the company intends to do about the debt. To date, the owners, Focus Hospital Services Inc. of Sarasota, Fla., let the property go to a tax sale in October and has not contacted county officials about another pending sale.

“They did not pick it up,” said LaGrange County commissioner George Bachman. “The property was put up for tax sale a few months ago. They could have come in and paid the taxes or bid on the property and they did not do that either. We have not heard from them.”

He said the taxes owed are for just one year.

But the Shipshewana Town Council did hear from Focus back in February 2011. That’s when the company asked for a $500,000 retroactive tax abatement for its property. The council turned down that request.

In October the county took ownership of the tax certificates at a tax sale for the inn and water park property. Now the commissioners are planning to include the certificates in a tax sale later this spring, mostly likely in March, as part of a group of properties that are in tax default.

Bachman said the county will set a minimum bid on what is owed by Focus. He estimated the company has $15 million to $16 million tied up in the hotel and water park but it’s actual worth may be about half that.

He said that even if someone purchases the tax lien on the complex, the law gives the owners a year to pay the taxes before foreclosure can begin.

“We just want to push the issue. We don’t want that tax bill to build up and be $2 million next year. That is all we are trying to do.”

Still operating

The water park and hotel are still operating. Staff at the hotel Friday said there was no manager able to talk about the tax issue. Calls to the Focus headquarters in Sarasota went to voicemail.

The company’s website says the water park is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays during the school year and every day when school is out.

The company operates a second water park at a Holiday Inn in Dundee, Mich.

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