While we initially contemplated doing an abbreviated version of the Indian Hill Winter Club (IHWC) history, we decided to tell the entire story instead. In addition to being a wonderful story of perseverance, teamwork and passion (if you like those kind of stories), it also is the only way to give members who may not know the full story an appreciation of the thousands of volunteer hours and personal sacrifices that went into building the IHWC. We hope that Club members never take the facility for granted and recognize why active membership involvement and volunteerism are such a strong part of the IHWC culture. The Steering Committee who founded the Club wanted nothing more than to enrich the quality of life for families in our Community. We believe they clearly succeeded and hope that those who follow will continue to keep the same spirit of active membership involvement and volunteerism alive. For it, more than anything else, is what will continue to make the IHWC a truly magical place for generations to come.
The idea for the IHWC was initially conceived by Mike Collette, a displaced East Coast native who had grown up in the metro New York area. While Collette loved raising his family in Cincinnati, he felt the rainy, dreary winters left much to be desired. He also lamented that there was no rink on the East side of town. This made it difficult to expose his kids to skating and hockey, winter activities he had enjoyed immensely growing up. As he pondered the situation, he wondered whether a family winter sports club like those he had known out East might fly in Indian Hill.
He initially bounced the idea off of several friends. They believed it would be a tough sell given few people in the community skated or knew what a “winter club” was about. With that said, everyone agreed the idea was worth exploring further. Soon a small Steering Committee was recruited. The Steering Committee included Jamie Burchenal, Stuart Deadrick, Greg Foote, Cathy Goold, Marylou McIlwraith, Tim McKay, Ann Nash, Lynn Pierce, Tom Powers, Mark Sneider, Mike Wentz, and Tom Wilson.
Each of these individuals brought unique skill sets to the team. Jamie Burchenal had founded the Newport Aquarium and had excellent start-up experience; Foote brought experience in construction; Goold was an organizational and IT force who, along with her husband Greg, would handle all e-mail and website communication; Wilson and Powers brought extensive experience in real estate development; Deadrick and Nash had grown up skating at the New Canaan (CT) Winter Club and were passionate grass roots advocates and volunteers; Tim McKay was a lawyer who provided pro bono help on all Legal matters; Mike Wentz was an architect with extensive design/build experience; McIlwraith was the President of the Greater Cincinnati Paddle Tennis Association; Mark Sneider brought product development and marketing expertise; and Lynn Pierce like Goold, was an organizational force who also brought expertise in insurance and risk management. These individuals would collectively remain the driving force behind the project for the next five years.
The first Steering Committee meeting was held in January of 2002 in Mike Collette’s basement over chips and salsa and adult beverages (the way all great visions are fueled). The group faced several immediate challenges including: 1) how to build excitement around a concept no one understood; 2) where to locate the Club; and most importantly, 3) how to get the word out.
And so the team launched a grass roots campaign to explain and build community interest in the idea. Concept brochures were developed and distributed to friends and neighbors, informational tables were set up at Rec sport sign-ups, and presentations were given at various functions including Mother’s Group meetings and Kinderveldt luncheons. While there was certainly skepticism that a project of this magnitude could be pulled off, particularly in a conservative community like Indian Hill, there was also a strong encouragement to “go for it”.
At the same time, Collette was meeting with Mike Burns, the City Manager of Indian Hill to discuss possible locations for the Club. Burns mentioned that the Village was in the process of acquiring 300 acres of land in Camp Dennison at the former Martin Marietta Gravel pits and that it might be an appropriate location for a recreational facility like the IHWC. Shortly thereafter, the Club began a nearly two year process of presentations to various consultants, committees and Council members in an effort to convince the Village to lease land to the Club.
The team knew that it would be critical to show broad community support of the concept in order to be taken seriously by the Village. And so, the team launched a formal membership drive. The official kick-off started with a float in the Village’s 4th of July parade. The now famous float was led by a skating “Frosty the Snowman” (Collette’s brother-in-law Tom Wilson) and a host of kids on roller blades wearing “Got Ice?” t-shirts. Several other team members sat in the back of a pick-up truck dressed in winter attire (in near 100 degree
heat!) as Christmas music blared from the speakers and a snow machine perched atop a pick-up truck created an early July “Winter Wonderland”.
The IHWC buzz had begun! Even more importantly, the fun, creativity and outrageousness that birthed the Club’s first float, would continue to remain an integral part of the IHWC culture. The Club continued to gradually build membership through securing $100 membership deposits. These deposits helped fund the Club’s early stage marketing efforts. While the discussions and presentations continued with the Village regarding land, the Steering Committee was also busy optimizing what amenities the Club should have and what the building should look like.
Mike Wentz-- a Committee member by night and architect by day, spent literally hundreds of pro bono hours creating renderings, floor plans and scale models. Members then provided feedback through a series of Open House meetings. Through this process, the IHWC became a Club that was collaboratively designed by the members for the members.
While the design of the Club was coming along nicely, the membership drive was stalled at about 200 families. It was becoming clear that nailing down the location for the Club was going to be critical in order to give the project credibility. After running into some initial opposition from Village Council regarding leasing land in the Grand Valley to the IHWC, a new Council led by Mayor Tom Rink and Vice Mayor Eppa Rixey embraced the idea. They strongly believed that the IHWC would be an excellent addition to the Community. They were also impressed by the list of 200 families who had already signed on as “members”. Within six months, in the late fall of 2004, the Club finally had the land it needed to kick its membership efforts into overdrive.
Once land was secured, the membership began to build quickly. Soon there were over three hundred families who had sent in their $100 membership deposits. However, now the real work was starting. It was time to finalize the design of the building and secure bank funding. In addition, everything needed to happen quickly if the Club was to be able to break ground by April 2005 so it could be ready to open by winter of ‘05.
After pitching its plan to about 7-8 prospective lenders, National City and its commercial lending chief Rick Wirthlin came forward with a proposal that seemed workable. Specifically, National City agreed to provide the club with a $2.5 million loan without personal guarantees provided: 1) the Club could raise $500,000 in donations; and 2) the club could secure 275 of its target 350 membership target by July 2005—the date for its ground breaking.
This created a tall challenge. Getting a $100 check from a prospective member was one thing. However, securing a $2,000 check was something completely different. It was clear that these “sales” would need to be made on a one on one basis—no easy task given 300 pitches needed to be made. To accomplish the task, the Club recruited a team of 25 members and organized them into four teams who were headed by four team captains: (Dan) Meyer’s Bruins; (Pete) Fovel’s Red Wings; (Bruce) Ferguson’s Maple Leafs and (Mike) Collette’s Rangers. Each team was given a list of members and a quota. Specifically, they were asked to close 90% of the members on their list. The winning team would be awarded the prestigious Corona Cup at a (now infamous) awards ceremony that was held at the Little Miami Boat Club. To make a long story short, after 3-4 months of hard work, occasional trash/smack talking, and hilarious updates provided by Corona Cup scribe Gary Hudson, the 90% goal was collectively achieved. Of note, the Corona Club (with the winning team member’s names inscribed) sits on a shelf to this day behind the bar in the Club Room.
The task of closing was certainly made easier by the spectacular full color renderings created by one of our architects Bruce Robinson. Bruce was introduced to the Club by Marje Kiley, an Indian Hill resident and sports club design guru. Working together with Marje, Bruce’s talented team of artists and “imagineers” brought the Colorado ski lodge environment we were looking to create to life. While this new vision also increased the cost of the Club through the addition of a mezzanine level (versus the original one story floor plan), the Steering Committee knew that the design was perfect and that it would virtually assure we would open the Club with a full membership.
In addition to the fine work the Corona Cup Closing Team did on delivering its 90% membership conversion quota, it also delivered on its goal of raising over $500,000 through member donations and sale of Lifetime Memberships. Donations were further augmented through a now legendary “Winterstock” fundraising party that was held later in the summer of 2005.
While things were going well on the membership front, the Club was mired in the muck on the regulatory front. Specifically, the OEPA was holding up approval of the Club’s septic permit (Note: there were/are no public utilities on the site). While we eventually were able to secure permit approval after nearly nine months of negotiating and presenting multiple system designs with the OEPA, the project had fallen behind. Indian Hill resident Greg Foote and his firm Capital Construction were given the impossible task of trying to build a 50,000 square foot recreational facility in seven months. They were also given the impossible task of completing the highly complex project for under $90 per square foot.
In an effort to construct a Ritz Carlton facility on a Motel 6 budget, Foote agreed to build the building at what was essentially his cost. In addition, he also went to every Indian Hill resident he knew in the construction trade and asked for their “assistance” (e.g. reduced margins) in order to make this significant contribution to the quality of family life in our community. Every subcontractor and supplier he talked to happily agreed. Foote also asked for favors from other non-Village resident subcontractors because, as he told them, “this project is important to both me personally and to our Community”. They too agreed because they could sense Foote’s passion and knew that this was indeed a special project.
The official ground breaking began in mid-July ’05. The OEPA septic approval that was holding up the project was announced to our membership in a fourth of July float that featured a port-o-let and a fully operational mini-track hoe. Things seemed to be proceeding nicely as the first phase of construction commenced. And then, every conceivable obstacle seemed to be thrown at us.
For starters, the fine print in the OEPA septic approval came back with a septic system that would essentially consume the entire site. This necessitated a full renegotiation and redesign of the system (not to mention a near doubling of the cost). Hamilton County building inspectors would wage a continuing power and control battle in an effort to assert their authority and make the approval process as difficult as possible. And then, when we thought we were just turning the corner, the coldest December in recent memory kicked in which slowed the metal roof work to a crawl.
Foote continued to brave the elements and the regulatory forces of evil. While the project was behind schedule, the membership completely understood and continued to cheer on the team from the sidelines. In addition, in an effort to help keep construction costs down, volunteer teams of members regularly came to the Club on weekends over a three month period to sweep the building, remove debris and trash and stage construction materials for the following week.
As the opening grew near, the time came to make ice for the first time. Teams of volunteers worked into the wee hours each night after work. Reggae and classic rock music reverberated throughout the building as the team tediously circled the rink applying water an eighth of an inch at a time with a sprayer, putting down the lines, and eventually applying water with a 200 foot flooding hose. Panic ensued two days before the opening when a building inspector had inadvertently turned off the ice compressor while conducting an electrical test. Air pockets were created in the ice and several team members needed to pull a near all-nighter in order to break up the air pockets, fill them with hot water and re-flood the ice.
While the team learned a lot through their first ice making adventure, it was a wonderful bonding experience. The team reconvenes each Labor Day weekend for the annual IHWC ice making ritual.
Finally, on an ironically cold Thursday evening in early May, a small group of Steering Committee members and volunteer families who had poured countless hours into the project, and numerous subcontractors (and their families) who also felt strong ownership in the project, came together for an emotional Grand Opening ceremony. After four and a half years of hard work, the IHWC was finally open.
The next night, hundreds of members came down to enjoy the Club’s first official night. Footeand Collette looked down from the mezzanine ice gallery and saw hundreds of kids, most of whom had never skated before, with broad smiles having the time of their lives. As they watched the kids circle the ice, Foote put his arm around Collette and said with trembling voice and a tear in his eye: “Mike, this is why we built this place”
It is impossible to recognize all of the individuals and families who made this project possible. Whether it was through financial donations, sponsorship, providing free or discounted construction and landscaping materials, volunteer clean-up hours on weekends,
or just encouraging the team from the sidelines, everyone played a role in making the Winter Club dream a reality.
When the club puts out a request for help, or asks you to fulfill your three hour chaperone shift each season, we hope you will remember the thousands of hours invested by those who made the Club you enjoy today possible. Thank you for preserving the culture of active involvement, volunteerism, and of friendship and fun that will continue to keep the IHWC a truly special place for years to come.