RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
NPR's Chris Arnold has more.
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CHRIS ARNOLD: I'm walking through the snow at the edge of a field here in Elkhart County, and right now there's just some corn stubble from last year's crop and a highway nearby, some woods over there. But the plan is to transform this area into a tropical paradise. They're talking about building some giant glass domes here that would cover indoor pools and rivers - and some kind of tropical forest. There'd be waterslides.
MONTAGNE: We envision this and dream that this will be a totally new type of family attraction that we've not seen in America.
ARNOLD: That's Leroy Troyer, a local developer and architect.
MONTAGNE: We plan to have about 100 amenities of activities, all the way from bowling to indoor basketball, tennis, soccer, miniature golf.
ARNOLD: This wouldn't be a regular hotel with a swimming pool. Troyer pictures lush green areas with the villas nestled in the trees, and those giant glass domes rising, he says, like huge mushrooms.
MONTAGNE: With the domes, can you just imagine the toadstool type of mushrooms, only they'd be gigantic big, like a full acre?
ARNOLD: OK, this might sound kind of crazy, and Troyer realizes that. But here's why it's actually not so crazy. Troyer is a successful local developer. Back at his office, he explains that for years, he's been trying to come up with ways to bring more tourists to Elkhart. And one day, a friend of his from Holland told him about these glass-domed resorts that they already have all over Europe.
MONTAGNE: And he was real excited about it, how families come to this place, they stay for three, four days or a week. They have water and they have plants. They have villas. And the families come, unload their car, and the rest is a walking community.
ARNOLD: And they've become very popular in areas with cold winters.
MONTAGNE: And that was a real wow to me.
MONTAGNE: We have about 40 in Holland and about eight in the U.K., and about 10 in Germany, and about 15 in France.
ARNOLD: Robert Weijhenke has been in charge of operations for many of these resorts in Europe. He was with a company called Center Parcs. And Leroy Troyer, from here in Elkhart, tracked him down, flew to the Netherlands, and met with Weijhenke.
MONTAGNE: We were very excited. We always have thought that America is a very good destination.
ARNOLD: And it turns out that Elkhart, Indiana, could be an especially good place. Weijhenke says that these resorts work as inexpensive family vacations that you can drive to.
MONTAGNE: If you want to just relax for a couple of days, you just get into your car. You don't have the hassle to go to the airport with all the security.
ARNOLD: And Elkhart is between Chicago, Indianapolis and Cincinnati, and it's got 35 million people within a three- or four-hour drive. That's more than twice the population of the Netherlands - and there are 40 of these resorts there.
MONTAGNE: Yeah, and we have an average occupancy between 85 and 90 percent all year round.
ARNOLD: Weijhenke has been working with Troyer on drawing up plans for the resort, which would be called Family Holiday Village Elkhart. They say it would create 500 jobs on site, and more jobs in the surrounding community.
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ARNOLD: Workers are building modular homes inside of a warehouse run by Commodore Corporation. It's a local homebuilder that's been talking to the resort developers. Rod Davis, one of the managers, has overseen some heavy layoffs in recent years.
MONTAGNE: There was a guy, Jack, that worked up in final finish that - it was really hard to let him go because he had been here for a long time.
ARNOLD: Getting the contract to help build the resort would mean the company could hire back a lot of those workers.
MONTAGNE: It would be great to get this and have those people come back to work.
ARNOLD: Chris Arnold, NPR News.