|By Jesse Davis, Goshen News,
Ind.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
January 12, 2010 -- GOSHEN, Ind -- It's always a good time to take a vacation.
That was the idea behind a multi-million dollar announcement during the Elkhart County Commissioners meeting Monday morning. The commission approved $10 million in assistance out of its recovery zone facility bonds for Family Holiday Village Elkhart, Inc., which is constructing a $205 million vacation facility on the property immediately east of the American Countryside Farmers Market.
The sprawling 300-acre facility will include two large glass domes that will house more than 100 different activities and services, including a tropical water park, shops and restaurants. The surrounding area will be populated with approximately 600 four-, six- and eight-person villas and 60 apartments fully equipped and furnished. The rental rate is expected to be $55 per person per night. Artificial lakes will also be added to the area to enhance the area's look.
According to a release on the announcement, the Village is based on the design and business model of similar successful holiday villages across Europe. The current average occupancy level of those villages is at 85 percent year-round.
Development and construction of the facility are being overseen by the International Leisure Consultancy Group, based in the Netherlands. FHVE is made up of ILCG employees, as well as the local business people who currently run the farmers market.
County Commissioner Mike Yoder said he first became aware of ILCG efforts two years ago when it was in talks with the Economic Development Corp. of Elkhart County.
"We met with the group to talk about the concept, but then didn't hear anything for almost two years," Yoder said. "Then, six or seven months ago, it looked like there might be potential for this to actually happen. Since then, we've been working with them off and on."
Coming to America
ILCG officials, however, haven't been sitting back and twiddling their thumbs.
"We had been approached by the American Countryside Farmers Market," said Robert Weijhenke, ILCG secretary in charge of development and operations. "They invited us to come (to America) and we looked at the site."
Company representatives liked what they saw.
"The site, from a geographical point of view, is ideally situated," Weijhenke said. "It's on U.S. 20 and Ind. 19 in a catchment area of about 35 million people. In Holland, they have 40 of these similar-sized resorts and the population in Holland is only 16 million people, so we have over twice the amount of people."
It is expected that 85 percent of the estimated 1 million vacationers each year will come from other states, especially Illinois and Michigan.
Weijhenke and others are estimating the annual revenue of the entire facility will be approximately $135 million each year, with an additional $15 million in local economic impact.
"I think it's pretty easy to see where there would be some economic multipliers through the community from that draw," Yoder said.
Yoder thinks the new facility will fill a gap in the local tourist trade.
"The county already has a pretty important tourism business cluster," Yoder said. "But, from my perspective, one thing we've missed in that is a strong family-oriented tourism draw. The farmer's market and the Amish thing is more adult-oriented in a sense. Amish Acres has somewhat of a family theme, but this is focused entirely right on families."
Many new jobs
The project will also result in two rounds of new jobs, first temporary, then permanent.
"Once the finances are in place, we can start building," Weijhenke said. "It will take 18 months to construct, and straightaway it will create 500 jobs to construct the site. Once the site is in operation, we will have a permanent staff of about 400 people year-round."
Weijhenke pointed out that most of the jobs will have no prerequisites, that employees will be trained after they are hired. Maintenance staff, food service workers and the like, however, will still need a certain amount of experience to apply. Yoder called the jobs a "positive addition to the economic mix we're looking at in the community."
Acquiring the last of the financing for the project is the final step remaining, which Diederik Advocaat, ILCG financial adviser and employee of Carpathia Global Capital Ltd., said will take a few months.
"We started looking for funding in June last year and found out that a lot of the property funds and the banks advised us to get some local commitment first, given the difficulty in the market, so that's what we've done," Advocaat said.
He said everything else is in place, from the zoning to the plans, but obtaining the final $50 to $60 million in capital and getting bank financing will take approximately five to six months. They are also seeking support from the state of Indiana.
Advocaat also pointed out that the Elkhart County site will be a platform to build village number two in Indiana. They plan to build a total of three.
"It's very positive when you look at the big picture, at what we've accomplished," Yoder said. "Tourism has been an important part of the area, so this is an opportunity to expand that a little more, and as we've attracted the green energy type of companies and see RVs coming back some, we're starting to accomplish our goal of economic diversity in Elkhart County."
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Copyright (c) 2010, Goshen News, Ind.
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