“I think it’s wonderful,” he said of the honor. “You’ve been here 25 years and you get noticed by your community. I’m truly honored and excited.”
Lutz has owned and operated the Riverside Athletic Club on Hamilton-Cleves Road since 1997 and was nominated by Kathleen Klink and Craig Wilks, both of whom have been previously honored by the chamber. Klink was the 2019 Citizen of the Year and Wilks was the 2004 Small Business Person of the Year.
In their joint nomination letter, Klink and Wilks said Lutz has invested in his facility, including investing in pickleball courts, a wine bar and an outdoor shipping container bar, as well as free summer concerts on Fridays.
“Successful communities need small independent business owners who provide jobs, opportunities and a path forward,” the nomination letter reads. “Roland Lutz does that in spades. His business continues to grow physically, economically and socially supporting the interests of Hamiltonians and for those within the greater region.”
Lutz was also the coach of two regional tennis stars ― Eleana Yu and Peyton Stearns ― who made their debut at the U.S. Open in 2022.
It was in late December when Lutz was told about the honor, and a bit suspicious of the way Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Dan Bates told him of the news. Lutz was on the tennis courts when Bates called, so when he called back, they set up a meeting at the club for the next day.
“I thought something was up,” he said. “But I wasn’t sure what it was (about).”
There could have been a few things, including the plans of the Riverside Athletic Club. Lutz has ideas of what he’d like to see develop along the riverfront as his property is on the west side of the Great Miami River.
But when Bates told him of the award, he was honored and humbled.
Coming into the next season, the Riverside Athletic Club will be mostly business as usual, especially with the tennis offerings. Lutz said they’ll have some expanded pickleball offerings. Discussions will need to be had with regard to the future development, and if Lutz will try to develop the property alone or bring in a partner. He’d like to see pickleball expanded and a possible restaurant overlooking the river.
A master plan for the site most likely needs to happen first, Lutz said, and he said he’d want the city’s input and its vision for the western banks of the river.
This is the first time the Small Business Person of the Year and the Citizen of the Year will be honored at the annual meeting. The Citizen of the Year has always been honored at the event, but the Small Business Person of the Year has been honored at various events, including one year at the Hamilton State of the City.
HOW TO GO
What: Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce annual meeting
When: 5:30 p.m. cocktails and dinner; 7 p.m. dessert and program, Friday, Jan. 26
Where: Spooky Nook Champion Mill Conference Center, North B Street
Info: The Small Business Person of the Year and Citizen of the Year will be honored at the annual event. For tickets, visit www.hamilton-ohio.com.