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The Journal Gazette

  • File: A crowd cheers during a home-school volleyball championship at Spiece Fieldhouse.

Saturday, September 24, 2016 10:25 pm

Spiece faces 2 separate foreclosures

Sherry Slater | The Journal Gazette

A local lender has filed foreclosure papers on Spiece Fieldhouse, alleging owner Thomas G. Spiece fell behind on payments and now owes the full loan balance of about $1.2 million.

Old National Bank also wants to foreclose on a Wabash warehouse owned by Spiece, who previously had two Fort Wayne retail stores and gained local prominence in the 1980s with splashy TV commercials including one taped at the pyramids in Egypt. The outstanding balance on the Old National loan is for about $2.9 million.

Spiece responded to the legal documents by filing last week for Chapter 11 personal bankruptcy. He listed debt as almost $4.4 million. His assets are more than $14.6 million, including a Wabash home valued at $230,000. 

He listed total monthly income of $88,000 from rent collections and business profits.

By seeking bankruptcy protection, Spiece is pressing pause on the foreclosure action and pressuring the bank to approve a repayment plan rather than demand all its money at once, his lawyer said.

Scot Skekloff, who represents Spiece in the fore­closure action, said Spiece wants to resume payments and would consider selling the Wabash warehouse and its inventory of jeans, which he sells online.

"What Chapter 11 gives him the opportunity to try to do is restructure the debt that he has," Skekloff said. Skekloff’s law partner and brother, Daniel Skek­loff, is representing Spiece in the bankruptcy proceedings.

According to the bankruptcy filing, Spiece has paid at least $47,600 to the attorneys. 

Although Spiece’s initial response to Old National’s lawsuit, filed in May, questioned whether he owed the bank for the loans, Old National was listed as a creditor in the September bankruptcy filing. Spiece borrowed the money from Tower Bank. 

Evansville-based Old National acquired Fort Wayne-based Tower Bank and all its assets for $110.3 million in 2014. Loans are considered assets because they generate income for banks. Although the two loans were made separately, both buildings serve as collateral for both loans.

Old National’s attorney, Thomas Trent, didn’t respond to messages seeking comment. He filed the first paperwork for the case in March.

Based on Spiece’s personal assets and debts, he could pay the loans back in full. It’s unclear why he fell behind on payments and why Allen and Wabash counties’ treasurers also are among the creditors listed in the bankruptcy filing.

Scott Skekloff, who wasn’t sure how many loan payments were missed, said his client relied on lease income at Spiece Fieldhouse to make them.

"It wasn’t a lot (of missed payments). He wasn’t real far behind. Not years, for example," the attorney said. "He did have trouble with the rents, collecting rents."

Spiece Fieldhouse, 5310 Merchandise Drive, houses eight basketball courts, a fitness center, a pro shop and a cafe. Its largest tenant has been Gym Rats, which hosts youth sports leagues, clinics and tournaments.

Dan O’Connell, Visit Fort Wayne’s president, said that although Spiece Fieldhouse is considered a regional destination, it’s really Gym Rats that brings out-of-towners to local hotels and restaurants.

"We estimate that youth sports generate about $30 million (each year) in our community, and we know Gym Rats is the kingpin of that," he said. "We estimate Gym Rats at Spiece generates a third of that – or roughly $10 million."

Gym Rats director Todd Hensley couldn’t be reached for comment Friday, but an employee at SportONE Parkview Fieldhouse confirmed that Gym Rats is moving into that facility and out of Spiece Fieldhouse.

SportONE Parkview Fieldhouse, 3946 Ice Way, is a mere four minutes – or 1.2 miles – south of Spiece Fieldhouse off Lima Road, according to Mapquest.com.

Gym Rats plans to continue using some Spiece courts for future basketball tournaments, O’Connell said. Gym Rats organizers typically schedule tourney games in numerous area gymnasiums, including those at the University of Saint Francis and area high schools.

O’Connell doubts the community will lose youth sports tourism dollars from the Spiece Fieldhouse foreclosure.

By filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, Spiece is asking the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to let him continue operating the business while he signs new tenants, drafts a financial plan and, with creditors’ and the court’s permission, resumes payments on the debt at a renegotiated rate.

His payment proposal – or at least a status report on it – is due to the court within about four months.

sslater@jg.net