Tim Warnecke was sitting on a patio with a few friends one day, talking about their kids and reminiscing about their own childhoods, when someone began sketching an elaborate treehouse design.
Warnecke kept the sketch pinned to his kitchen cabinet for about seven years before one day deciding that he wanted to bring that childhood dream to life.
He wants to bring that dream to Shelby County on the edge of Morristown, about 30 miles southeast of Indianapolis, in what is thought to be Indiana’s first treehouse resort.
Plans call for Camp Ohweegotta, a proposed $3.2 million to $3.6 million development approved unanimously by the Shelby County Board of Zoning Appeals, to open next summer. It will rely partly on a growing pop culture fascination with treehouses that has been fueled largely by Animal Planet TV show “Treehouse Masters.”
Sam Booth, the executive director of the Shelby County Plan Commission, said he has confidence in the project, despite Warnecke having filed for personal bankruptcy in 1999 and for bankruptcy for doing business as New Look Design and Tile Time in 2010.
“I think Donald Trump’s filed for bankruptcy many times. It happens to people, and you have to climb back up,” Warnecke said. “There is going to be one heck of a project taking place. The treehouse resort will be going up.”
(Trump has filed for corporate bankruptcy four times, according to Forbes.)
Warnecke, of Michigan-based construction company New Look Design, has been modeling and designing treehouses for private owners for 27 years. But the Morristown project will be the first treehouse establishment he has built that will be accessible to the public for short-term stays.
Warnecke had grown tired of being stuck in hotel rooms when traveling across the country, so the idea of a treehouse resort with an outdoor focus on the natural environment appealed to him.
“Morristown is the perfect little country town,” he said. “We hope that this will bring tourism to Indiana and bring more employment to the neighborhood.”
The retreat will be just south of U.S. 52 near Blue River Road and will extend across two 5-acre parcels. Development will take place at the east end, and nature trails will be created to the west of the property.
Plans call for the project to be a family-oriented resort with a waterslide, playground, swimming pool, volleyball, horseshoes and other activities traditionally held at campgrounds. The balconies of each unit will face the play area so that parents can keep an eye on their children.
The 12 to 15 resort units, each with their own theme, will be built among the trees on stilts 12 feet above ground level with a top floor at 35 feet. The development company is still waiting for approval from Shelby County to have some of the units feature a 50-foot high upstairs master bedroom with 360-degree windows. Guests will be limited to a maximum 30-day stay.
Warnecke hopes to build up to 15 treehouse resorts across the country; the next targets are the northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan and Southern states with warmer climates.
Although Warnecke’s New Look Design and the third-generation property owner, John Alan Thomas, will contribute toward the resort, Warnecke said most of the project will be financed by private investors. He declined to name them.
Morristown business leader Dana Caldwell, whose CGS Services owns a neighboring property, said he has confidence in the property owner.
“I have a lot of faith in the landowner, Mr. Thomas. His family has owned land in that area for many years. His father was a straight shooter, and Mr. Thomas has made wise choices as well,” Caldwell said.
Local resident Ryan Mack, Shelbyville High School’s boys basketball coach, said the novelty of a treehouse resort would have a positive impact on Morristown, a community of 1,300 known for its historic Kopper Kettle and Bluebird restaurants.
“It sounds pretty cool. It should bring more people here,” Mack said. “There’s not a lot to do around here, so I think it would be a great place for people to go during the summer.”
The treehouse resort is expected to create at least 15 jobs in property maintenance, office management and housekeeping, Warnecke said.
He said the resort will be advertised nationwide, and rental costs are expected to range from $149 to $199 per night.