Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:36 pm
Through good times and bad, the Olympia Resort has been a fixture in Oconomowoc since it was established in 1972. The day it opened at 1350 Royale Mile Road, its owners were deep in debt. For most of the past 34 years, the Olympia, a sprawling resort and conference facility featuring a ski hill and a 17,000-square-foot spa, has been plagued by image problems, name changes and revolving ownership teams. Some say it was built ahead of its time. Critics say it was never meant to be.
However, Rick Eckert, who became the resort’s sole owner in 2003, and his management team say good things are happening at Olympia, and the resort is turning the corner to a much brighter future in the western shadows of the sprawling Pabst Farms development on the other side of State Highway 67 along Interstate 94.
Eckert is investing $10 million to $12 million in the resort for physical upgrades that will include a new 80-room condotel and a 10,000-square-foot outdoor event tent. A condotel is a hotel, but the rooms are sold to buyers. The owners of the rooms participate in a rental program when they are not using the rooms and share the revenues with the owners of the resort.
As plans for the condotel, scheduled to break ground this fall, move forward and Olympia undergoes internal cosmetic upgrades, the Olympia management team is hard at work spreading the positive word about the resort throughout the community.
"We have had to reintroduce the property as if it opened yesterday, not only to those that don’t know about us but to those that had been here and were already committed to not returning to the resort," said Tammy Holmes, director of sales for Olympia.
First and foremost, Olympia recently changed its name from Olympia Resort & Spa to Olympia Resort, Hotel, Spa, Conference Center.
With 40,000 square feet of function space and the ability to cater parties for up to 1,000 guests, businesses and organizations comprise an important market for Olympia. The resort has already increased its corporate sales by 40 percent in the past year, Holmes said.
"We want to be affordable, and our niche is an adult alternative hotel," Eckert said. "We don’t have waterparks, and we don’t intend to build them. We are a function hotel. We are pine trees, ponds and swans. We appeal to the large corporate groups, associations and businesses."
Olympia’s target market for buyers of rooms in the condotel includes seniors and retirees who may visit the area often and are seeking the luxury of amenities at a resort while receiving income when the room is rented, Eckert said.
Olympia signed a lease agreement with Oconomowoc-based Events by Design LLC to put a fantasy event tent on the outdoor tennis court pads, Eckert said. The tent, which will be available for use from May through October, will add seating for 350 guests and 10,000 square feet of event space to the resort’s capabilities.
Weddings, parties and other functions will be customized for guests to create unique environment for events, Holmes said. The tent is currently located at Windwood Country Club in Watertown and will be moved to Olympia this spring.
The resort’s management hopes continual upgrades to the spa and fitness area, including new exercise equipment and workout studios and additional services added to the list of spa offerings, will attract adults of all ages.
The management team also will promote the golf course, the generous 312-square-foot hotel rooms, the new furniture in the rooms and suites, the hotel bar and restaurants to attract area visitors for both day and overnight visits.
"There have been several different companies that have utilized Olympia in the past and have some negative feelings toward the company, so we are really in the process of proving ourselves from a service and quality standpoint," said Mike Barton, vice president and general manager of Olympia.
Eckert and a group of investors purchased the property from an East Coast bank and other investors in 1995.
"They were asking $12.5 million for it. We picked it up for considerably less," he said. "It was in pretty much a deplorable condition, and it had a bad reputation. It was losing $1 million a year when we bought it. Within 24 months, we had it breaking even, and then we just kind of put it on the backburner and did other things."
Eckert, now in his 50s, was with Choice Hotels International Inc. for 27 years before taking over Olympia as sole owner in 2003. Choice Hotels, based in Silver Spring, Md., owns hotel franchises, including Comfort Inn Suites, Quality Inn, Econo Lodge, Clarion, Rodeway Inn budget hotels and Sleep Inn.
From 1995 to 2003, all of the partners in the original purchase had sold their portions of the properties that the group owned, except for Eckert and his final business partner, Darrell Ducat. Eckert gave Ducat ownership of their other properties, which included Holiday Inn Express and Comfort Inn Suites locations in Florida and Ohio, in exchange for Olympia.
Eckert figured that the Olympia property would rise in value because of its close proximity to Pabst Farms.
"For the latter part of 2003, the ownership, we basically got it breaking even and just banked it kind of like you buy an asset and buy some stocks and forget about it because we knew the area would come," Eckert said. "You are not developing east. You are going to come here for the lake, and once Pabst Farms started developing is where I saw the potential."
In 2004, Eckert brought together a new executive management team that includes Barton, Holmes, Mark Mayfield as corporate sales manager and Kevin Schneider as controller.
The management team’s goal is to bring the Olympia’s revenue, which is currently in the single-millions, to nearly half the replacement cost of the property, which is $36 million, within the next 60 months, Eckert said.
Immediate secondary goals for the team are to form a management company, in which all of the Olympia managers would share ownership, that will purchase and operate eight to 10 additional hotels in the greater Milwaukee area over the next eight years, Eckert said.
They did not disclose if they are planning to build another resort or if they are looking at limited service hotels. Eckert and Barton have already purchased the franchise rights for a Comfort Inn Suites, which they plan to develop near Highway 67 and I-94.
Olympia would serve as a training ground for the managers and service staff of the additional properties.
"It could be purchasing distressed properties," Barton said. "We would use our expertise and commitment that we have amongst our team to turn properties around."
Eckert said one of his original draws for purchasing Olympia was the physical structure of the 250,000-square-foot hotel at the site.
"The reason I bought this hotel, vs. building more Comfort Suites and those types of brands, is because they are not building these anymore," Eckert said.
"These hotels go on for decades, and if you keep them up and pay attention to your core business, if you stay focused on what your business is, these hotels will grow as the society grows," Eckert said. "I did not see any functional obsolescence in this piece of real estate, I saw huge potential. The big dollars have already been spent building this shell, so all we are doing is cosmetically upgrading it."
The 80-room condotel will be called the Waterside Suites Condotel and will consist of suites, all with a four-diamond, AAA quality that will be for sale to individual investors.
The average unit size is 524 square-feet, and the unit prices range from $139,000 to $149,000.
Waterside Suites will be connected physically to Olympia, so guests and owners of the suites can partake in the nightly entertainment, restaurants and spa facilities of the resort without going outside, Eckert said.
Olympia will maintain the suites and rent them to the public for $120 to $130 per night. Olympia gives the owner 55 percent of the room rate and keeps 45 percent as compensation for renting the room and its upkeep, Eckert said.
At one point in its history, Olympia offered time shares when it owned the town home complex on the property directly north of the resort, Eckert said. That complex is now owned by a separate entity, and the units are rented out as apartments. They have no association with Olympia.
The condotel has not been approved yet by the City of Oconomowoc. However, Eckert has gained the support of Mayor Maurice Sullivan for the project.
"I think the addition of a condotel creates a market presence that is not represented in Oconomowoc at this time," Sullivan said. "It will add dimension to the ability of our community and will serve more people than we have in the past as far as temporary places to stay."
Eckert hopes that Olympia will complement the Pabst Farms development.
At the same time, Olympia needs to re-establish itself and repair its tarnished image as a white elephant in Oconomowoc.
"We want to address the bad reputation historically, the down time," Eckert said. "Mike’s got a story, and Tammy has a couple of stories, where groups said they are never coming back. They were here eight years ago and were mistreated, and they said they will never step foot in here again."
Olympia is reaching out to organizations such as the SilverSneakers Fitness Program, a Tempe, Ariz.-based company for Medicare recipients, to draw the community to the resort.
"We will survive," Eckert said. "We will survive."
Olympia Resort, Hotel, Spa, Conference Center
Location: 1350 Royale Mile Rd., Oconomowoc
Owner: Rick Eckert
Web site: www.olympiaresort.com
Amenities: Spa, convention facilities, golf course, ski hill, Ugly Duckling Pub, Rick’s Steakhouse and Frisco Bay Café, with Olympia Gardens and Waterside Suites Condotel coming soon.