Oktoberfest organizers face bill for unpaid fairgrounds rent

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.

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