Michiana Event Center Has Become an Entertainment Fixture
Writer / Amy Lant-Wenger
Photographer / Kari Lipscomb
All along the rolling country roads of Shipshewana, there is a certain sense of tranquility.It’s an extraordinary ambiance of peace that captivates people – the kind of sensible simplicity that has made this rural community a kind of mecca for those looking to escape the chaos of a complicated world.
There is one narrow state highway that runs through the center of town, where the clip-clop sound of hooves is as easily discernible as the hum of vehicles. Yet before reaching the downtown sector, just to the east of State Road 5, one swift turn allows for the sight of a sprawling complex, the likes of which are currently unmatched and unrivaled in northern Indiana.
It’s known as the Michiana Event Center, or more succinctly, the MEC. Through the course of its inception in 2017 to its present state of renown, the initial premise of being built for big events and big crowds has been realized in astounding fashion.
The MEC is something of an architectural marvel by way of size, capacity and careful attention to detail, as well as touches of regional heritage. The facility is adequately equipped to serve as a venue for any type of experience, from farming expos to trade shows, from concerts to consignments, and from antiques to auctions. Folks can reserve a customized space for a modest gathering of 100 people, to an extravaganza of thousands.
One of the hallmarks of the MEC is the spacious, steel-framed coliseum. The seating arena has room for a maximum crowd of 5,500, with floor seating for concerts. The coliseum is temperature-controlled and has locations at various sections for food service, with entrance points granting ease of movement for patrons.
Elsewhere amidst the grounds, which encompass approximately 25 acres, there is a trade-show building and a staging barn, and the latter can be easily sectioned for stall spaces. That was one of the many goals that Chief Executive Officer Dennis Fry envisioned when the MEC was still in its conceptual phase.
“It’s amazing all of the things that can happen here,” Fry says. “That’s part of the sense of accomplishment we have, to be able to be there for different types of events.”
The vastness of the various venues is made more impressive by the capability to transform into whatever caters to the needs of those organizing and attending events. Tremendous amounts of earth can be moved and stabilized to adapt to agriculturally themed functions. Just as efficiently, the polished floors can be revealed once again for craft shows or banquets. There is office space currently available to rent, and camping amenities as well.
Karen Flanhardt, who is an ebullient presence at the facility, is in charge of sales and event direction, and is all too happy to enthuse over the MEC’s growth, purpose and soaring reputation.
“We’ve got a great staff here,” Flanhardt says. “It’s really a team effort. These people are the heartbeat, the pulse of this place. They keep things going.”
The MEC has become such a resounding success, in fact, that finding corporate and local sponsorship has been somewhat effortless. Coca-Cola is one of the chief sponsors, and there are a number of familiar businesses featured on the Wall of Fame that have contributed through the past four years. There have even been occasions, Flanhardt says, when product expos have made the MEC a focal point for unveiling new items and innovations.
Just over a decade ago, there was some discussion making the rounds about finding or creating a proper landmark for horse sales, auctions, and other similar types of events. Several members of the Amish community were part of those talks, and eventually word reached Fry. At the time he was involved in the field of construction and masonry, and it was only a matter of time before he was approached about lending his expertise to the venture.
The interested parties traveled to Howe, Indiana, where they toured a multipurpose complex. The parties wondered aloud about how to construct stalls to facilitate designated spots for animals. As is quite common with small-town life, families banded together to make that happen, and the result was 150 stalls.
“We completed the work just two days prior to the first show,” Fry says with a smile.
Bolstered by that success, the vision broadened to include an entirely new facility altogether. It was a logical next step, and an easy decision for Fry at that point.
“I decided to sell the construction part of my business and went to doing this full time,” he says.
With the help of grants, the leaders for the building endeavor secured the financing necessary to move forward, and the project began in 2016 with the foundation. By the spring of 2017, construction began in full force, and the MEC was open for business in the fall of that year.
Both Fry and Flanhardt say there was a subtle reticence from the business sector initially, but business leaders soon understood that being a host city for an entertainment center would boost local commerce. Now, Fry says, the businesses have a harmonious exchange of services and ideas, particularly with regard to parking. Although the MEC has space for 1,100 cars, the nearby marketplace has graciously accepted overflow traffic, and the MEC gladly reciprocates as needed.
For music and merchants, recreation and retail, and anything else in between, the MEC staff members continually strive to accommodate it all, with what Fry proudly calls a Christian attitude and family-oriented approach.
The Michiana Event Center is located at 455 East Farver Street in Shipshewana. Photos and videos can be viewed at michianaevents.com. Dennis Fry can be reached via phone at 260-768-3305. Karen Flanhardt can assist with coordinating and planning events, and can be reached at 260-768-3306. Visit them online at michianaevents.com.