Oktoberfest organizers face bill for unpaid fairgrounds rent

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Board members of the German-American Klub of Indianapolis could be personally on the hook for more than $20,000 in unpaid rent at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

The bill is from 2008 and 2009, when the club experimented with holding its annual Oktoberfest at the fairgrounds instead of its usual location at German Park, 8600 S. Meridian Street, next to the cultural organization's headquarters.

The Indiana State Fair Commission goes to court to collect on unpaid bills a few times a year, spokesman Andy Plotka said. The case against the German American Klub, filed in Marion Superior Court Nov. 7, is unusual in that individual board members could be held liable.

That’s because the Indiana Secretary of State dissolved the German-American Klub corporation for administrative reasons in 2003. Because the club wasn’t a legal entity when President Charles Kemp signed a contract at the fairgrounds, liability passes to the board of directors, the lawsuit says.

The total owed is $22,076.88.

Kemp, a member since 2006 who became president in mid-2009, said the unpaid bill is just one of the organization’s problems. He wasn’t aware until last year that the corporation had been dissolved. And now unpaid sales tax is keeping it from being reinstated, he said.

The club’s financial problems date to 2007, when a complete rainout of the multi-day Oktoberfest left the group about $170,000 in debt, Kemp said.

The club has been trying to catch up ever since. “Believe me, we’d love to [pay the debts],” Kemp said.

The German-American Klub has about 300 active members, Kemp said. The only qualification for membership is an interest in German culture. Annual dues range from $5 to $50.

Oktoberfest, which was held Sept. 8-11 this year, typically draws about 10,000 people. The festival earned a small profit in 2008, but the following year didn’t go as well, Kemp said.

Back at German Park since 2010, Oktoberfest has helped whittle down the overall debt, Kemp said, but more rain this year made it impossible to pay off the fairgrounds by the agreed-upon deadline, he said.

Kemp, a meat-cutter by trade, is personally on the hook. In August, he signed a note in which he agreed to pay $150, plus $50 a week, until October 14, when the entire balance became due, according the lawsuit.

Kemp said he knew he was taking a risk when he signed the note personally and on behalf of the club. “I wasn’t expecting a summer-long drought to end on those particular four days,” he said.


  • trials of NFP's
    Why is it that clubs, non for profits and staple organizations of the past are folding every year?
    Mis management, low interest, lack of participation, to name a few. What has changed? probably access to 24 hour entertainment, the security of staying home, the ability to not be part of anything but believe that you are a part of everything. Think about that for a minute i hope i made my point.

    As for the German Club and the debt. I am sure the state fair board are not a bunch of loan sharks, i hope that they will continue to work with you.
    But think about this Event Insurance, get a writer for acts of nature.

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  1. A Tilted Kilt at a water park themed hotel? Who planned that one? I guess the Dad's need something to do while the kids are on the water slides.

  2. Don't come down on the fair for offering drinks. This is a craft and certainly one that belongs in agriculture due to ingredients. And for those worrying about how much you can drink. I'm sure it's more to do with liability than anything else. They don't want people suing for being over served. If you want a buzz, do a little pre-drinking before you go.

  3. I don't drink but go into this "controlled area" so my friend can drink. They have their 3 drink limit and then I give my friend my 3 drink limit. How is the fair going to control this very likely situation????

  4. I feel the conditions of the alcohol sales are a bit heavy handed, but you need to realize this is the first year in quite some time that beer & wine will be sold at the fair. They're starting off slowly to get a gauge on how it will perform this year - I would assume if everything goes fine that they relax some of the limits in the next year or couple of years. That said, I think requiring the consumption of alcohol to only occur in the beer tent is a bit much. That is going to be an awkward situation for those with minors - "Honey, I'm getting a beer... Ok, sure go ahead... Alright see you in just a min- half an hour."

  5. This might be an effort on the part of the State Fair Board to manage the risk until they get a better feel for it. However, the blanket notion that alcohol should not be served at "family oriented" events is perhaps an oversimplification. and not too realistic. For 15 years, I was a volunteer at the Indianapolis Air Show, which was as family oriented an event as it gets. We sold beer donated by Monarch Beverage Company and served by licensed and trained employees of United Package Liquors who were unpaid volunteers. And where did that money go? To central Indiana children's charities, including Riley Hospital for Children! It's all about managing the risk.