NAPPANEE — The Amish Acres complex that put this small city on the map will continue as a tourist attraction for the foreseeable future.
The new owners of the Round Barn Theatre, Greeting Barn, restaurant, administrative offices and historic cabins — in other words, the guts of the tourism business — plan to continue using the facilities to host stage events as well as the annual arts and crafts festival but will likely be making tweaks to the business along the way.
The new owners — including former Congressman Marlin Stutzman as well as Jason Bontrager and John Kruse — paid $1.55 million for the Round Barn and other tourism-related components of the complex, narrowly outbidding local restaurateur Kurt Janowsky. “We want to build on top of the legacy,” said Stutzman, adding that music and other shows could be added to the mix.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun working in this space,” he said. “I’m sure there will be changes but we’re excited to get to work on it.”
The trio, who operate a massive event center in Auburn called Kruse Plaza, anticipate being able to open in the coming months. As is typical, Amish Acres closed on New Year’s Eve and generally doesn’t reopen to the public until spring.
At this point, the new group isn’t sure whether it will retain the Amish Acres name but indicated it wants a seamless transition to retain the existing base of 150,000 visitors that come to the complex each year.
“We’ll be focusing on weddings, festivals, theater and of course food,” he said.
Though Kruse is from the Auburn area, I have pointed out that both Stutzman and Bontrager are from Middlebury and Bristol so they’re acutely aware of the significance of Amish Acres to the region. In fact, Stutzman said he proposed to his wife at Das Dutchman Essenhaus after seeing a performance of “Annie Get Your Gun” at Amish Acres in 1999.
Besides the tourism component, other pieces of Amish Acres went to separate buyers and brought in a combined total of $4.25 million for Richard Pletcher and his family who have built the complex over a 50-year period.
Pletcher, 78, has simply wanted to retire from the business and decided to auction the property after unsuccessfully trying to find a buyer for the entire 28-acre complex the past few years. After the auction, Pletcher said he’s happy with the outcome and that the core of the complex will continue to attract visitors to his hometown.
Besides the tourism component, the 62-room inn went to a separate buyer for $1.29 million with other lots, homes and buildings making up the remainder of the auction tally.
Jeff Kitson, executive director of the Nappanee Chamber of Commerce, said he was happy that the core of Amish Acres will continue to attract visitors to the city at the southern edge of Elkhart County.
Other parcels that went at the auction — many of which had frontage on US 6 — will likely be used for new businesses or to allow room for surrounding RV and bus companies to expand. “It’s a sign of a strong economy and consumer confidence,” he said, adding that buyers were willing to pay a premium for the attraction as well as some of the valuable parcels that were held by Amish Acres.