By JIM KROEMER
THE GOSHEN NEWS
SYRACUSE — For four long years, the Oakwood Inn has languished in limbo, cold, dark and empty, its fate in the hands of courts and lawyers and would-be developers.
In fact the future of all the amenities and buildings of Oakwood Park, a haven of rest and renewal on Lake Wawasee for people of faith for most of the past century, were also mired in uncertainty.
Since last October, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, painters and carpet layers have been working feverishly to bring the inn and other buildings in the park back to life, and the good news for lake residents is that the inn and its restaurant will be open for business by this summer.
Late last year, Buckingham Properties of Indianapolis backed out of a tentative deal to purchase the property.
It was then that Dr. Rex Parent and his family, a fixture on Lake Wawasee for three generations, stepped up to buy the park and its signature inn. After reaching agreement with court-appointed receiver Ian Rolland and Oakwood property owners, Parent Associates, Inc. closed on the deal to buy Oakwood Park.
J.R. Parent, Dr. Parent’s son, has taken the lead in directing the refurbishing of the Oakwood Inn and Jeremiah Heierman has been hired as manager of Oakwood Resort and is in charge of the day-to-day details of getting the inn ready to open.
He said the plan is for a “soft,” or gradual re-opening of the hotel. On the weekend of May 18, an open house is scheduled for all the contractors and sub-contractors who have worked on the building since the project started in late October.
Then on Friday and Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, May 24 and 25, members of the Wawasee Property Owners Association will be invited to an open house to view the refurbished hotel.
“We realize this is a very aggressive time frame,” Heierman said, “But we will do our very best to open by Memorial Day. We don’t want to let people down.”
When completed, the inn will have 77 guest rooms, 10 of them suites. Heierman said the Oakwood would begin accepting reservations in late February or early March.
All the rooms are getting complete overhauls including new ceilings, paint and carpet. There will be wireless internet throughout the hotel and flat screen television sets in every room.
“It will look and feel like any other high-end hotel people have stayed in,” Heierman said.
The public areas of the hotel like the central rotunda, hallways and other common areas will “have an old-time, lakey feel to them,” he said, including personal photos of life on the lake from all time periods. Lake residents who would like to submit framed family photos from all generations for use in the inn’s décor are asked to contact Helena Rensberger at Helena@oakwoodresort.com or send them to 702 E. Lake View Road, Syracuse, IN 46567.
The inn will also have a high-end restaurant and bar open to the public. Heierman said an announcement about who will run the restaurant will be made as soon as all the details of an agreement are finalized. Instead of buffet style dining, the new restaurant will have plated meals, he said, and there will also be outdoor dining on a patio just outside the restaurant.
Although the project has been approved by the DNR for 120 pier spaces, Heierman said the hotel will not use that many initially and will leave the front shoreline facing the main part of the lake open. Piers will be placed behind the hotel, facing Conklin Bay for use by hotel guests and patrons of the restaurant.
And it’s not just the hotel that is undergoing renovation. The Oakwood property includes 10 vacation homes and eight cabins available for rent, and all 10 homes are being remodeled. Also open this summer will be the Hilltop Banquet Center, the old Wawasee Academy building, with seating for up to 500 people.
One of the vacation homes and Kimmell Hall will not be open, along with the program center, until 2014.
Heierman also said activities associated with the Oakwood for years will still take place and possibly expand under the new ownership. Boat-in worship will be a fixture on the lake in front of the hotel again every Sunday this summer, beginning on May 26.
In addition, a wooden boat show has already been booked, and the Fort Wayne Philharmonic will play this summer.
The Oakwood will also be the venue for much of the greatly expanded local Chautauqua program, possibly including a week-long program as part of the national Chautauqua tour.
Many on the lake are delighted the Oakwood is coming back to life, and Heierman said the feeling is mutual.
“The support of the local community has been phenomenal,” he said. “That’s the reason we’ve been able to be as aggressive as we have been.”
Although Heierman couldn’t say exactly how many employees the park and inn will require when everything is up and running, he expects it to be a force in the local economy. Much of the remodeling work is being done by local contractors, he said, and added, “it is important to the Parent family to employ local residents.”