Fourteen years after he first obtained an option to buy the property, including a seemingly endless series of delays over the past year, Harpreet "Monte" Singh can finally see his crowning achievement taking shape.
The Middlebury-based gas station and convenience store owner smiled often Friday, April 25, as he showed a reporter around his latest Gallops truck stop at the northeast corner of U.S. 20 and S.R. 15. The 23,000-square-foot building, with its castle-like exterior, will strike a medieval theme with its decor, but there will be nothing old-fashioned about its functionality.
The $10 million project, covering 15 acres, will boast 24 gas pumps for passenger vehicles and another 12 diesel pumps for semi- trucks. There will be an electric car charging station, a semi- truck scale, electrical hookups for truckers and room for 38 semis to park overnight. There will be 11 showers, six cash registers, 25 skylights, a Subway, a McDonald's, a full-service premium coffee counter and leather furniture for weary travelers.
"People can sit down and have a nice soothing environment, just like you'd have in a bookstore," Singh said.
He said his daughters, ages 13 and 17, forced him to include the premium coffee area, which will sell baked goods. McDonald's initially objected because they didn't want to compete with that, but the restaurant chain has since relented after Singh agreed not to sell fresh-baked cookies like McDonald's does.
He has applied for a license to sell warm beer and wine but has not yet been approved.
One interior wall will feature huge portraits of Triple Crown thoroughbreds, in keeping with the Gallops theme.
"In our book, they are kings," he said.
Singh, owner of American Petroleum Inc., first set his heart on the location in 2000, but quickly lost it when another fuel company, now out of business, outbid him. He managed to buy it later and broke ground in July 2012, pouring the foundation and installing underground storage tanks and piping. He had hoped to open in July 2013.
But then his surveyor became ill, delaying the project by eight or nine months. The site's clay soil, which doesn't drain as well as more sandy soil, has slowed construction at times. Securing a well permit was more difficult than anticipated. It took longer than expected to import the restrooms' ceramic tile from Italy. The recent nasty winter didn't help either.
He operates other Gallops truck stops, a brand he created, in Middlebury, LaPorte and Michigan City, but they're less than half the size of this place.
Singh said he has always liked the location. It sits between Elkhart, Middlebury, Bristol and Goshen. The state's project to widen U.S. 20 to S.R. 15 should bring him even more traffic.
Singh is now hoping to open by July 4. But there are still some things that could hold him up. He must obtain a state permit to extend Comcast cable lines across the road, because a high-speed data line is needed to operate registers. McDonald's, which will be housed in the west end of the building, still must secure its permit to begin interior construction.
But he's closer than ever to opening the doors.
"I feel very elevated," Singh said. "I think it's a dream come true for me. It's a dream project."