HOBART | The former St. Sava property in Hobart has been sold to a company that builds and operates correctional and detention facilities around the world, according to a source close to the project.
A total of 40 acres of land owned by Bear Country Park was sold Monday morning, Hobart resident Larry Brown said. Brown is a managing member and one of five partners comprising Bear Country Park.
The sale of the property, east of Interstate 65 near Robinson Lake, was confirmed by Aaron McDermott, whose company Latitude Commercial Realty Inc. has had the property listing at 4101 W. 49th Ave. for the last 18 months.
Neither Brown nor McDermott would confirm the name of the purchaser.
A source close to the project has said it is GEO Group, Inc. based in Boca Raton, Fla.
The source said proposed plans for the former St. Sava property, purchased by Bear County Park in 2009, are to build a detention center to process people who are in the country illegally.
The center would be built by GEO Group then managed by the federal government, the source said.
Pablo Paez, who serves as vice president of corporate sales for the GEO Group, said his company is unable to comment on real estate related transactions as a matter of policy.
According to the GEO Group website, the company is the world's leading provider of correctional, detention and community re-entry services with 96 facilities, approximately 73,000 beds and 18,000 employees around the globe.
Since 1984, GEO has been a leading provider of correctional and mental health services for federal, state and local government agencies, the website said.
When contacted late Wednesday, Mayor Brian Snedecor said the sale of the 40-acres was news to him.
Snedecor said he couldn't comment on inquiries or interest shown in the property voiced by GEO Group or any other company.
"We're bound by confidentiality," Snedecor said.
Snedecor said any plans for the property would have to be approved by the Plan Commission and other city boards before going forward.
U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D- Merrillville, said he was unaware of the sale of any property to GEO.
Visclosky said the federal government does pay for services from GEO Group. He said currently there is no contract with the Florida company and the federal government for services in Hobart.
Bear County Park owners, including Brown, Matt Butkus, Rudy Sutton, John Stofko and Louis Gerodemos, put the former St. Sava property for sale in November 2010.
Brown said developers gave up on plans to develop it and Robinson Lake after they lost city officials' backing.
The Bear Country Park plan included renovating the 21,000-square-foot St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Hall and using it as a full-service restaurant, banquet hall and smoke-free bingo center.
Brown also had talked about buying or leasing Robinson Lake Park, adjacent to the church property, as an area for campers, picnic shelters, public bathrooms and laundry facilities.
Friends of Robinson Lake, created in 2009 to oppose plans by Bear Country Park, late last year asked city officials to consider purchasing the 40-acre plot.
Sandy O'Brien, a Friends of Robinson Lake spokeswoman, said the former St. Sava property should be preserved because of its woods, wetlands and its link between the north and south portion of the Hobart Marsh.
O'Brien and other members of the Friends of Robinson Lake last year sent letters to city officials urging them to apply for a coastal grant that could help pay for the former St. Sava parcel.
Snedecor told the group the city wasn't in a position to purchase the property.