Violet Township receives Land Bank funds to help with renovation of Wigwam outbuilding

Nate Ellis
ThisWeek group
Melissa Wilde, Violet Township trustee, and Michael Kaper, executive director of Fairfield County Land Bank, stand in the outbuilding at the Wigwam campus that recently was renovated by the township with the help of a grant from the Fairfield County Land Bank. Wilde also is on the board of directors for the nonprofit corporation.

Although Violet Township officials haven’t been able to maximize use of the Wigwam because of the pandemic, financial assistance recently allowed for renovation to an outbuilding on the campus.

Violet Township in July 2018 finalized the approximately $2.7 million purchase of the Wigwam– a 63-acre historic retreat that houses 26 buildings, a 500-seat banquet hall and a 303-seat theater – and officials planned for the campus to serve as more than the township’s administrative headquarters.

They billed the campus as an event center and community gathering place.

Less than a year after moving the township’s administrative offices to the Wigwam in May 2019, however, the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic significantly hampered the public-use plans.

While the township hasn’t been able to fully utilize the banquet hall for event rentals or allow the Pickerington Community Theatre to use the theater for its productions, renovations to a 900-square-foot outbuilding began in July and were completed at the end of January.

The $54,970 project will create a new meeting venue. 

The project’s costs were offset by a $15,000 grant from the Fairfield County Land Reutilization Corp. – or Fairfield County Land Bank – which each year uses 5% of Fairfield County’s collections of delinquent real property, personal property and manufactured and mobile-home taxes and assessments to assist local governments and nonprofit organizations in the county.

“The goal of the Land Bank and the grant program is to assist eligible applicants with property improvements that will return the designated properties to productive use,” said Michael Kaper, executive director of the nonprofit corporation. “Returning properties to productive use is part of the mission statement of the Land Bank.”

Kaper said he and the Land Bank’s seven members of the board of directors approve projects and then reimburse local municipalities and nonprofits after project upgrades are completed.

He added the Violet Township project to provide a community meeting space “fits within the Land Bank’s mission of returning a property to productive use by supporting community goals and improving the quality of life for Fairfield County residents.”

Violet Township Trustee Melissa Wilde, who also serves on the Land Bank board of directors, said while the pandemic has delayed plans for the Wigwam, it hasn’t stopped officials from preparing for when the campus can be used more extensively than for township offices and trustee meetings.

“Our goal is to continue to restore the facilities on the grounds and to bring them into uses that can be enjoyed by the public,” Wilde said. “One of those projects will be to renovate the barn in order to make it a space that families can utilize for reunions or weddings.

“One of the facilities may eventually replace the (Fairfield County) Sheriff's substation (at 4 E. Columbus St.) as the Olde Village continues to develop.

“One of the smaller buildings will be set aside for use in future partnership with the Fairfield County Parks. Our goal is to maintain as much of the historical value of the grounds while also providing more ways for the public to utilize this unique space.”

Violet Township Development Manager Robin Duffee described the facility that was upgraded and will receive the $15,000 grant as a “small outbuilding behind the main complex that had been setting vacant.”

“Although the foundation and bones of the building were in good shape, it did require a lot in the ways of renovations, such as new flooring, drywall, electrical re-wiring, HVAC and upgraded restrooms and plumbing,” Duffee said. “We were pleased that we were able to work with the Fairfield County Land Bank, as we felt our goals really aligned with this project.

“We were able to bring new life to a building that had been sitting vacant in order to increase the quality of life for our community.”

Minus the grant, Violet Township contributed $39,970.

“Violet Township renovated the building to create a smaller community meeting space that can be utilized by township residents,” Duffee said. “Groups like homeowners associations and other community groups often need meeting space for groups of 10 to 30 people, and the township sought to fulfill that need in our community.

“The Wigwam also gets many requests for rentals for small, private events – such as birthday parties and baby showers – and this building can be utilized for those smaller events as well when the large banquet hall wouldn’t be appropriate for the size of the group.”

Wilde said the successful solicitation of county funds to help renovate the outbuilding was the result of township officials looking for a variety of ways to improve the facility even though rental opportunities haven’t been available.

“We have worked hard to find creative partnerships to help accomplish our goals for the members of the community,” she said. “The Fairfield County Land Bank has been a driver in cleaning up neighborhoods and has also created a grant program to help nonprofits and government entities preserve historical buildings.” 

As for the entire Wigwam property, Duffee said the township remains on schedule.

Although opportunities to supplement financing and renovations to other buildings on the campus has been impacted by the pandemic, he said it hasn’t affected the township’s ability to cover the bond payments on the property.

“The final payment is scheduled for fall 2027,” Duffee said.

A more long-term goal of the township remains to develop 10 acres on the north side of the property for commercial use, while preserving 26 acres of woods along state Route 204.

Township officials have said they hope the northern portion of the campus eventually attracts a hotel, upscale restaurants and professional offices.

“Although we have had conversations with interested parties regarding development of the property, those discussions have cooled somewhat since the pandemic began,” Duffee said. “Violet Township is committed to reserving the Wigwam property for its highest and best use, and we are in a position where we don’t need to rush into any development that does not provide the best economic and community value for the area.”

nellis@thisweeknews.com

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