ELKHART — Southgate Crossing is making plans to become the tourist attraction its builders always hoped it would be.
“We’re starting to gain some traction with community awareness,” said Stacey Holland, director of brand development. “We get quite a number of international travelers that see the building from the bypass and decide to stop in. We also get quite a few (local) people that say, ‘I didn’t know you were open.’ Word is starting to get out again that something is happening around here.”
Holland was one of many new employees who came aboard to create a plan for the property after it was sold in 2012. Holland said the property then was filled wall-to-wall with discounted goods.
Remnants of the previous owner’s products are still being sold off, she said, but new owners at Southgate Crossing are pushing to bring fresh life to the property – with the idea of a farmers market coming off the bypass but making it bigger and better than anyone had dreamed.
“When that building was first built, it was a giant dream,” Elkhart County Commissioner Mike Yoder said.
Built in 2007 by LeRoy Troyer, Kenneth Bemiller, Art Moser and Mick Tuesley, the building was designed to be a farmers market. At the time it was the largest structure of its kind, using peg and beam construction.
“Unfortunately the business plan just didn’t pan out,” Yoder said. “The recession pulled the rug out from so many projects, and we’re just now getting back to some of those cool projects.”
When the new owners, the Himes family, bought the property in 2012, it had been closed for two years.
“This place is inspiring,” Holland said. “We don’t want it to be just another site.”
To make the site work, the owners aim to create an experience-based destination, retaining the farmers market themes of the previous owners while adding activities, classes and products to improve their footprint.
“We have focused on embracing our cultural heritage,” she said.
It’s an all-encompassing project that starts with the newly developed farm.
This summer, Seed to Feed donated seeds that Holland and the new agriculture director, former Merry Lea education director Jon Zirkle, planted along with a collection of Southgate Crossing product. A portion of the produce will be returned to the nonprofit organization, but the rest will be used by Southgate.
“It’s just a taste of what’s to come,” Holland said. Eventually, organizers will have rental plots for the community and in-house production.
“We can grow produce in the fields and have it here consistently for the public to purchase,” she said.
But that’s not all.
“We’re investing in farm development and farm-to-table classes with agriculture, but also in cooking and food preservation, fermentation, wood carving and knife sharpening.”
Organizers have had sewing classes, makers courses and even a pickling class recently.
With an on-site farm and garden, cooking classes, a kitchen and a farmers market, the property will be used in a variety of ways to create a unique experience for patrons.
“It’s a systemic approach to an activity that provided a number of outlets to support itself internally,” Holland said. “People can come here and do the thing, and the retail will support that activity.”
Southgate is working to stock, from local vendors, any products it cannot grow onsite. So far, over 50 local vendors are under consignment.
“We’re trying to think long-term in development and that’s why we’re investing in the farm and classes,” she said. “We want to start small and be realistic about what we can produce.”
Last year’s corn maze was another taste of the experience-based destination that will be Southgate Crossing. This year, the maze opens Sept. 1.
As a former founding member of the Elkhart County Quit Gardens trail, Southgate has returned to that program as well. Local business advocates are excited about the possibilities for the building.
“The fact that it’s up and running and engaged, and seems to be fairly active, is a positive,” Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce President Levon Johnson said.
Event spaces are available for rental, and for concerts.
The Harvest Hall is a loft area upstairs with a stage for performers; a staging kitchen and actual kitchen; and Countryside Kitchen for rental for classes, showers or mid-sized events. The Barley Room is available for rental for birthday parties but otherwise open for free-play.
The Third Horse Saloon and Corral was designed as a unique area for private groups, featuring a full bar and outdoor beer patio.
Southgate Crossing is located off S.R. 19 at 27751 C.R. 26. It is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Southgate is closed on Mondays. More information is available at 574-294-2040 or firstname.lastname@example.org.