Memorial Day on Monday officially marks the beginning of the lake season. This year anyone with a few spare millions could find an excellent investment opportunity at Lake Wawasee.
According to a Lake Wawasee hotel guide, Oakwood Park, founded in 1893, was built as a Christian camp for spiritual renewal and recreation. Located on 42 acres on the shores of Lake Wawasee, Oakwood Christian Retreat & Conference Center was owned and operated by an independent nonprofit, non-denominational Christian organization called the Oakwood Foundation.
Closed in 2008, the Oakwood Inn near Syracuse has been on the market since 2010, but it was only last Friday that a court ruling opened up the possibilities for offers that do not have to uphold the religious covenants and ideals for which the property was originally intended.
Buckingham Properties had been working on closing a deal on the property, but terminated it. In an April 9 letter to Ian Rolland, receiver for the property, Buckingham said:
“The degree of difficulty and risk associated with this endeavor has been significant from the outset…due to lack of support and, ironically, determined opposition, the risk of the venture grew to overwhelm the likelihood of success.”
On May 18, Rolland appeared in Kosciusko Superior Court where Judge Duane G. Huffer granted permission for him to look for new offers that do not have to uphold the previous religious restrictions.
Court documents state that “Based on the current state of the underlying litigation, receiver believes that the Foundation's property may not be bound by the same charitable purpose it once was. This could open other avenues for disposition of property, including public or private auction, with reserve; private purchase, and or removal of the Inn and the subdivision of real estate.”
In 2010 the property was put into receivership by the courts and Rolland was appointed by Attorney General Greg Zoeller as the receiver.
According to a report filed in Kosciusko Superior Court on April 20, over the past two years Rolland worked with the town board to get the property annexed to Syracuse, and maintained the property. He has also worked on resolving title issues under the purchase and sale agreement between the foundation and Buckingham.
Through their joint efforts they were able to relax some of the past restrictive religious covenants, including no dancing or selling of alcohol on the property. Buckingham was then able to purchase a liquor license for use on the property.
Buckingham asked for and received a permit from the DNR to put in 193 pier spaces on the lakefront. That's when the Wawasee Area Conservancy Foundation (WACF) stepped in and appealed the permit in court.
Rolland said Tuesday that the property has 750 feet of lakefront, and although he wouldn't put an asking price on it, he said the property is valued in the millions. He said due to the downturn in the economy it is not worth as much as it would have been a few years ago.
Rolland said reasonable offers will be considered but this doesn't mean the foundation would just take the highest offer if what the new developers intend for the property doesn't seem like a viable option for the area.
On Wednesday morning, Neil Ryskamp, a cottage homeowner since 1993, walked past the inn. Like many lake properties some of the cottages in Oakwood Park are old while others are brand-new. Some are rentals; many have had families using them for generations, he said.
Ryskamp said he had attended most of a meeting between Rolland and the homeowners association. He said he was glad they had relaxed some of the covenants because he felt the old restaurant at the inn never did very well because of the lack of a liquor license. However, by the same token, he is concerned someone will come in and turn it into a bar. He believes there could be trouble with patrons navigating the narrow roads after consuming alcohol for several hours.
He said he wasn't sorry that the plan with Buckingham had fallen through. He was afraid that development plan would have eliminated the playground there, and there had been talk of moving the beach. He said Buckingham had agreed to pay half the cost for new sewers to the property. With it backing out, Ryskamp wondered if the sewers would be upgraded, and if so, if the homeowners will pay the full cost.
Attorney Tom Yoder, of Barrett & McNagny, who works for Rolland, said the foundation is picking up the other half of the upgrade on the utilities, so the Oakwood homeowners have nothing to worry about; the utilities will still be upgraded.
Besides the inn, the property has three other big buildings, nine cottages and eight cabins. Ryskamp said he is thinking about selling his place; he is uncertain what lies in Oakwood Park's future.