ELKHART — One of the most distinctive buildings in Elkhart County is on the market again, just 13 months since its last sale.
The American Countryside Farmer’s Market site at S.R. 19 and C.R. 26 is up for sale, along with up to 95 acres, according to John Letherman, partner with FM Stone Commercial.
The site was part of a larger parcel purchased by Waste-Away Group in June, 2011.
Last November, Waste-Away got approval from the county to turn the 275 acres around the site into an “Elkhart Eco Park,” focusing the company’s trash-hauling operations there, close to two landfills and the intersection of a state and federal highway.
“The new owners have taken a step back and looked at the overall 318 acres of the property,” said Letherman. “I think they’ve decided they want to do an overall development plan, which includes this particular building and the surrounding acreage, as retail or another use,” Letherman said.
The Himes family planned to turn the large barn structure into offices for their companies, but backed off that plan. “It’s really a unique and striking building the way it is, and to make major adjustments in it for offices or other uses that would dramatically change the interior, I don’t think that makes sense,” Letherman said.
Calls to Waste-Away were referred to President Ken Himes, who didn’t return a call seeking comment.
Home to big ideas
The site was originally pitched as a possible “Amish Disneyland” type of theme park/tourist attraction.
The giant barn was envisioned as the first stage in a growing tourist attraction, but barn and plan both faltered. The market opened in May 2007, but was hit by the economic downturn and various other problems that eventually led to its closing in September, 2010.
Plans to add a travel resort with a shopping and retail complex and a water park never found investors, and the building sat for more than nine months before selling to the Himes family.
A future Up In The Air
So is the site a place whose time came and went, or is its time yet to come?
Letherman thinks it can get a solid use, though he’s not sure what that will be.
When the market was built, “The business plan that was there, I didn’t think was a slam dunk,” Letherman said. “You get guys in there that know what they’re doing, you might get a whole different success ... hopefully we can find entrepreneurs who can take it and run with it,” he said.
The site hasn’t been publicly listed, and there are no “For Sale” signs up, but Letherman said he’s been talking it up with a broad variety of people in the area.
He and his team have talked to Shipshewana merchants, to farmers and retailers as well as regional developers, exploring the options. “We’re pretty excited about this. We think that property, properly managed and presented, can do a lot of things for Elkhart County,” Letherman said.
“We’re hoping we can create something here that can create lots of jobs for lots of folks, and maybe an attractive tourist destination of some kind,” he said. “We’re trying to keep an open mind.”