TERRE HAUTE —
Robert Kramer has one of the best jobs in town.
Kramer, a native of Martinsville, is leading the charge to bring the Wigwam skating and event center back to life.
After a couple of years sitting empty, the northside landmark on Haythorne Avenue, is set to welcome the public this weekend for a “soft opening.” The business is undergoing massive interior renovations, including new lighting, fresh paint, a small restaurant and much more.
“We want people to come in and take us for a test run,” said Kramer, a longtime entertainment and hospitality professional. A specialist in transforming underperforming skate centers, Kramer has worked in the amusement industry for years. His work has given him a keen understanding of businesses such as laser tag, miniature golf, skating and other amusements.
The good news for the folks in Terre Haute’s north end is that Kramer believes there is a market for a fresh, new skating and event center at the Wigwam. His goal is to make the atmosphere kid-friendly but also suitable for corporate team building, special events and more.
“This is going to be a safe haven for family and youth,” Kramer said.
The Wigwam has a history spanning six decades. It operated on east Wabash Avenue in the 1950s and 1960s, according to Terre Haute city directories from those years. It moved to Haythorne Avenue in the 1970s and hosted generations of skaters there until just a few years ago.
This is the fourth underperforming skate center Kramer has taken over, he said. His business partners include Ronald Miner, Sanja Puletz and Henry Ledezma.
The Wigwam’s gleaming wooden skate floor is – at least for now – the most impressive feature of the center. The dark, smooth wood is about the average size for a skate center, Kramer said. That’s between 16,000 and 17,000 square feet.
“I grew up skating as a child,” Kramer said, adding that he learned the finer points of skating at Ron Miner’s Melody Skateland in Indianapolis. Ironically, Ron is now a business partner in the Wigwam operation.
Renovations under way in the Wigwam are impressive. A small restaurant serving Perky’s Pizza and other concession-style foods will be open this weekend. A new sound system is already in place. Eventually, a game room is planned including video games and “redemption” games, which are the sorts of games that reward players with tickets they can cash-in for prizes.
This weekend’s soft opening — which will offer free admission to anyone using the phrase “The Wigwam is Back” — is a chance for the public to see what a 21st-century skate and event center looks like. There are still the shining mirrored balls on the ceilings, but LED lighting and other new amenities indicate the business has changed from decades ago. The colorful interior is designed to be trendy, but not too “kiddy,” Kramer said. It’s also important to focus on safety and insure “good clean, wholesome fun,” he said.
An official grand opening, after all renovations are completed, is expected by fall, Kramer said.
Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes