Violet Township government officials are preparing to move into the Wigwam by early next year, providing a public use for the private retreat east of Columbus where the Wolfe family once hosted powerful politicians and Hollywood royalty.
Wolfe Enterprises, a business controlled by family members of late businessman and longtime Dispatch Publisher John F. Wolfe, sold the historic 63-acre property near Pickerington to Violet Township for $2.7 million in July.
Besides providing office space for the township's eight employees, the Wigwam will be reborn as community space, township Director of Operations John Eisel told visitors Sept. 18 during a tour through the retreat.
Fairfield County commissioners moved their regular Tuesday meeting from downtown Lancaster to the Wigwam so they could see the property.
Other county officials "ooohed" and "aaahed" as they followed Eisel around the wooded retreat, decorated with totem poles and other Native American decor, and listened to him describe the plans for the property. "We are going to stay with the rustic look throughout the complex," he said.
Among the plans, the Wigwam's 303-seat theater will become home to Pickerington Community Theatre, which currently lacks a permanent performing space. The lodge banquet hall, which can seat 400, will be made available for rentals, including corporate conferences, weddings and other events.
The swimming pool will be paved over for a spacious patio, which also will be available for community events. A bunk house will be remodeled into indoor open space where community groups can meet, Eisel said.
"We want this to be a destination for the community," he said.
Township officials and the Wolfe family thought it important to preserve the Wigwam for community use rather than sell it for development.
"There's so much history here," Eisel said. "We couldn't bear to see it become houses and apartments. It had such a higher purpose for the community."
The township borrowed $3.5 million to finance both the $2.7 million purchase and the estimated nearly $1 million renovation of the property.
The renovation, to be done in stages, will include infrastructure upgrades, updated technology, energy-efficient lighting and handicapped-accessible restrooms, Eisel said.
Eisel said he hopes the township offices can move in at the start of next year.
The Wolfe family bought 20 acres in 1927 as a family retreat and hunting lodge, and bought additional land over the years. Movie stars including Bob Hope, Jimmy Stewart and Gene Autry visited the Wigwam. So did many politicians who wanted to mingle with the Wolfes, who were major Republican donors.
Most of the wooded land, teeming with deer, will remain rustic.
Plans call for developing 10 acres on the property's north side, off I-70, into a commercial area that could include a hotel and offices.
Holly Mattei, the township's development director, said she has been talking with developers.
The township's current office building at 12970 Rustic Drive will be sold. It's a prime spot for commercial development, Mattei said.
Fairfield County's annual State of the County luncheon likely will take place at the Wigwam next year, county Commissioner Steve Davis said.
"It's one of the coolest places in central Ohio," Davis said. "I really look forward to all the possibilities of what Violet Township can do with this amazing facility."
A new name eventually will be chosen for the property. It likely will combine in some fashion the traditional Wigwam name with Violet Township and the conference center, Eisel said.