Syracuse-Wawasee Chamber gets $100,000 (in value) for office renovations

The front office of the Syracuse Wawasee Chamber of Commerce has been opened up by removing some interior walls. Renovations are still underway, but chamber officials gathered Friday to celebrate the community's support for the project. News Now Warsaw photo by Dan Spalding.
By Dan Spalding
News Now Warsaw

SYRACUSE — Just three months ago, Ashley Dillon assumed the role as the new executive director of the Syracuse-Wawasee Chamber of Commerce, saw the need for some changes to the office and has since watched a large wave of support rally behind her.

The former general manager at The Owl’s Nest where she cultivated a large network of connections over some 13 years (and started the catering business), quickly realized the chamber office at 207 N. Huntington St. needed to be more inviting.

Ashley Dillon

A top priority, she said, was to open up the interior space by knocking out some walls to expand the front lobby and a separate conference room.

Dillon said the office needs to be more welcoming in ways that serve both chamber members and visitors.

She said the conference room serve as a meeting space for the chamber as well as chamber member businesses that need room for gatherings.

She’s quickly been able to turn to folks through her previous hospitality network and the community as a whole.

The first two people she thought of were Bruce Jackson, a builder, and Gabe Ritter, an electrician.

“I knew they would want to make a difference in the community and would probably want to be part of this. They were the first two contractors that said, ‘Yes, I see your vision and I know there is a need,’ and they jumped in.”

Support snowballed to the point the chamber accumulated more than $100,000 in supplies and labor donated for the project.

All of the work is local, she said.

Initially, the project set out to focus on interior improvements, but the amount of support allowed Dillon to plan on exterior upgrades that will include new doors, siding and a ramp.

Jeff Dyson, president of the chamber board, said the renovations represent a serious reboot for the organization and that they want Syracuse to be proud of the chamber office.

He said Dillon is a “great fit” for the chamber.

“Ashley has done a phenomenal job at pulling all this together,” Dyson said Friday. “She’s done wonders. She has a lot of great relationships with all the local businesses and they’ve rallied behind her.”

Renovations are already underway. All of the rooms have been gutted. Dillon is working out of one room that is filled to the gills with furniture, supplies and computers. 

For now, the chamber relies on a neighboring business for the use of a bathroom.

On Friday, chamber members and contractors came together to celebrate the progress and let the community know about the new momentum that’s arising.

The celebration included two dozen people, many of whom are contractors who have offered to assist. The front parking lot was filled with contractor’s pickups.

The project has also been able to rely on help from the students who are part of the Wawasee High School building building trades program, Dillon said.

“Everybody wants to give back to the community,” she said, pointing to the crowded gathering. “Everybody’s coming together. It’s pretty amazing.”

Dillon said the cooperation is “a great example of the chamber moving forward.”

She said she also wants the office decor to represent the lakes area and promises the interior will include a few surprises that help achieve that environment.

Progress with the renovations rely on contractors making time in their schedule, and they hope the work will be done this spring, Dillon said.

Dillon’s enthusiasm and contacts have also translated into an increase in membership. Since her arrival, membership has risen from about 200 to about 232.

She expressed confidence that that will continue to increase.

A large turnout of chamber members and local contractors showed up Friday morning to celebrate renovation plans at the Syracuse Wawasee Chamber of Commerce office on North Huntington Street. News Now Warsaw photo by Dan Spalding.