Jun. 3—ANDERSON — Since purchasing the former Good's Candy Shop last year, Louie Keen, the colorful owner of Uranus Fudge Factory and General Store, has followed a formula similar to the one that made his Missouri-based candy shop a multi-faceted family destination.
The concept — start with a candy store and add varying amenities to land near an interstate highway to draw customers on a regional scale — is taking shape at the Anderson location, which has been rebranded as Uranus Indiana. Last month, Keen received approval from the Anderson City Council to rezone nearly nine acres behind the store, which sits on the corner of 53rd Street and Ridge Road. Plans include an 18-hole miniature golf course and a go-kart track.
But Keen is equally excited about a small patch of land in the corner of a five-acre farm that's part of the rezoning package. That half-acre, currently overgrown with weeds and unsightly trees, is a protected wetland that Keen envisions as the centerpiece of what he calls "a destination experience" for local customers and travelers alike.
"Whether you're traveling up and down the interstate or you live in Anderson, it could be somewhere you can go and there's a lot of different options of things to do, and not all of it costs money," Keen said.
Keen has hired Earth Source, Inc., a Fort Wayne-based landscape architectural and environmental consulting firm, to clean up and restore the property, build a walking trail with pollinator gardens, and install signage with information about native plants and local species of insects.
"How many people get the opportunity to go out and actually learn about nature?" Keen said. "I just want people to have an experience. Will it make money? No, it doesn't make any money, but yet it does because people will come and they'll spend some money while they're there. At the same time, you're protecting and improving and bringing back a piece of nature that nature needs."
The pollinator garden is an idea that store officials hope will provide interesting information about the process of making honey. The store hopes to partner with Wildflower Ridge Honey, a local beekeeper, to create a section where people can learn about pollination. The same approach, they say, is being discussed for other parts of the property.
"(Keen) really appreciates the wetlands and the protected areas and things like that," said Aimee Stambaugh, the general manager of Uranus Indiana. "He's really fascinated with the monarch butterfly, and they entail a certain weed and grass. That's something that really interests him. He would like to make these little sections that people can come through here and learn."
Local economic development officials have welcomed Keen's ideas and, knowing about the success of the Missouri location, are optimistic a similar approach in Madison County could mean untold millions of tourism dollars making their way to the area over the next several years.
"He's got a facility off of Interstate 44, between St. Louis and Tulsa, and he's done a great job of creating that destination environment so he can pull people off that interstate," said Greg Winkler, executive director of the Anderson Economic Development Department. "That's the only way you do it. We don't have anything like that on I-69. This is an opportunity to do that, and it'll bring thousands of people into town."
Follow Andy Knight on Twitter @Andrew_J_Knight, or call 765-640-4809.