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BERLIN -- For years, the noise around Amish Country was that there was nothing for the guests to do after 6 p.m. when all the tourist shops shut down.
That noise was quieted back in 2012 when Amish Country Theater opened in the old Flea Market in Walnut Creek.
The success of that venture, which was named a Top 100 event in North America, has helped the Amish Country Theater (ACT) out-grow its present location, leading to the development of the tri-plex project that broke ground on Friday, April 28.
A new theater, hotel and event center housing Amish Country Theater will begin construction in May with a projected completion in April 2018. The location is 4363 State Route 39, (across from Hiland High School, and adjacent to Schrock's Amish Farm) on an eight-acre lot purchased from Jo Anne Hershberger, daughter of the late John Schrock, who would only sell the land for the purpose of a theater.
"Thank you all for coming to the groundbreaking for the new Amish Country Theater, Encore Hotel and Suites and the Encore Hall and Event Center. Thank you for sharing this moment with us. It's a very exciting time for our family," said Mike Conn, one of the owners of ACT. "To be honest, there were times when we thought this day would never come. It's been a very challenging time leading up to this event, but now it's here. We're glad you are here to celebrate with us."
The Conns, Mike and his sons Jeff and Braden, wanted to bring a theater to Holmes County, and after space shopping, visiting all the businesses in Berlin, they were able to sub-lease space at the old Flea Market.
After finding space for the show, they approached family friend John Bunn, who was the funniest guy they knew.
"John has incredible talent for creativity, writing and acting," Jeff Conn said. "We asked him to write a show for us, he agreed to it, and we put together a really cool experience.
"We worked hard to renovate and open that space in three months," he continued. "We opened in May 2012. We invited all the local businesses and everyone came. We were thinking how easy it was. We had it made. The next day, our first public show, 22 people came to the show.
"We went out on the street trying to drum up some business, but we couldn't even give tickets away," Conn said. "That evening show had about 50 people at it. We realized it wasn't going to be as easy as we thought."
Confident their product was good, they worked on getting the name out and as the year went on, it snowballed into the success of the next five years.
"Bringing ventriloquist Ken Groves in for a special show that sold out got the wheels turning to bring him on as a regular," Conn said. "He really pushed the accelerator of our growth."
Recognition and awards helped the show grow, and the American Bus Association's Top 100 event in America really opened some doors and things took off for the new project.
Braden Conn talked about the specifics of the project.
The Amish Country Theater will be a state-of-the-art, 24,000-square-foot theater that holds 600. The sloped floor will seat 450 with approximately 150 seats upstairs.
The Berlin Encore Hotel and Suites will be an 81-room hotel with regular affordable rooms and more pricey luxurious suites.
The Encore Hall and Event Center will be a 18,000-square-foot facility with the capacity of 600 guests. As a wedding reception space, it will feature a grand staircase to showcase the entrance for the bride.
Excavation is scheduled for May 8.
"All three buildings are connected, which works out really well. After the show, or an event, you can go right to the hotel," he said. "We keep things family themed, with a Disney-like feel."
They will perform variety shows six days a week and offer special events like concerts and other special events.
"We love promoting the arts, keeping the cultural experiences available for the arts community in the area," Braden Conn said. "And we're partnering with the local district, with an opportunity for school productions as well. We're excited to embark on this adventure and excited for what it is for our community and for our family."
State Sen. Jay Hottinger, of the 31st District, said it was a privilege to be here celebrating with the Conn family.
"Some of the best days for elected officials are days when there are shovels in our hands or you're underneath a tent with scissors in your hands, because of economic development and job creation that goes with projects like this," Hottinger said. "Not only forthcoming construction jobs, but the permanent jobs. Not only are the jobs vitally important to the community, but the heartbeat of Holmes County really is travel and tourism. With development comes headaches sometimes, but it is far superior to the alternative. This really is a red letter day here in Holmes County. We wish you great success."
State Rep. Al Landis (R-Dover) said Berlin is already a destination, and this will really put the area on the map.
"What a wonderful concept," Landis said. "I look forward to being here for the grand opening. Congratulations and thank you for doing this in Holmes County."
Tim Ross was on hand, representing Congressman Bob Gibbs (R-Lakeville), who was on his way back to Ohio from Washington, D.C.
"It's a great day in Holmes County," Ross said. "On behalf of Congressman Gibbs, I wanted to extend my congratulations. I was just at a luncheon talking about economic development opportunities that come from tourism. When people come and stay overnight at a fine hotel such as this, it generates an economic impact for the county and surrounding area. It helps drive this part of the state."
Reporter Kevin Lynch can be reached at 330-674-5676 or firstname.lastname@example.org.