THE GOSHEN NEWS
SHIPSHEWANA — The Shipshewana Town Council voted Thursday to proceed with litigation against the former management company of the Shipshewana Town Center, a car museum and an adjacent hotel and water park.
By a 4-1 vote, with councilman Nathan Jones opposing the measure, council members voted to file suit against the company to enforce bond enhancement and lien agreements.
Town Attorney Kurt Bachman said that the company is “not living up to the conditions of those agreements.”
While Shipshewana council members and officials were mum about the purpose of the proposed lawsuit and even refused to include the name of the defendant in the council’s motion, recent actions by the council provide good clues.
First, prior to the vote on litigation, councilwoman C. Arlene Lazzaro asked Bachman if the word “Focus” should be included in the motion, indicating that apparently the council is seeking legal action against Focus Hospitality Services of Sarasota, Fla., the center’s former management company. Bachman said that the term “management company” would suffice.
The Town Center has since been renamed the Shipshewana Event Center. Focus also managed a Hudson Car Museum at the center and the Amish Country Inn Hotel and Splash Universe Wana Waves Water Park before breaking its management contract in December 2011 and leaving town. It also left about $768,000 in unpaid LaGrange County property taxes.
Town officials have been trying to get reimbursement from Focus for allegedly reneging on the management contract. On April 11, the council approved a release agreement with Focus. It closed three Focus bank accounts formerly earmarked for center operations and released $1,805 to the town as compensation.
Then, apparently skeptical about the amount of Focus’ assets, the council voted two weeks ago to proceed with a three-year audit of Focus’ financial records regarding the indoor water park and hotel, located at 800 S. Van Buren St.
Town Manager Mike Sutter told the council April 25 that the purpose was to ensure that Focus pays the appropriate amount of user fees to the town as stated in the management contract settlement.
After Thursday’s meeting, Bachman said, “It is not the town’s intention to create any problems for any specific group, but the town has one opportunity to protect itself.” He also said that the council’s latest action “has nothing to do with” Riegsecker Marketplace, which is purchasing the hotel and water park.