After slow stretch, Southport's commercial core sparks with new projects

November 15, 2016
The owners of Sophia's put $500,000 into renovating the former post office. (Photo courtesy Sophia's Bridal Tux & Prom)

A long-vacant building along a busy stretch in Southport once again is bustling with activity, bringing a taste of the commercial development expected soon in the immediate environs.

Sophia’s Bridal Tux & Prom opened early last month in the abandoned post office at 2025 E. Southport Road just east of the Madison Avenue intersection on the south side.

Husband and wife team Matthew and Jessica Limeberry bought the building for about $200,000 in March from a church group that never occupied it and pumped another $500,000 into renovating the one-story, 10,000-square-foot structure.

The post office was constructed in 1964 and had been vacant since 1984, when a more modern replacement was built to the north on Edgewood Avenue. The disuse of a key property contributed to the area’s commercial malaise..

The arrival of Sophia’s to Southport’s core represents a big step for the city’s revitalization efforts, Mayor Russell McClure said.

“That type of business is exactly what we’re looking for in Southport,” he said. “It’s a niche, and more of a destination.”

The area surrounding Sophia’s is attracting some office and residential development as well, which should boost traffic even more.

Adjacent to the bridal shop, Renaissance Electronic Services LLC, a dental claims processor, is spending $3 million to renovate the former Gerdt Furniture store. Renaissance plans to occupy more than half of the 66,000-square-foot building, as part of a major expansion in which it plans to hire 150 employees by 2019.

And across the street, a $10.8 million, 93-unit senior apartment complex with ground-floor retail is in the works. The Villas at the Plaza is set to be developed by the not-for-profit Partnership for Affordable Housing Inc. and will be built on the former site of Davidson Industries.

The not-for-profit should close on the property by the end of the year, McClure said.

McClure, who’s been Southport’s mayor since January, said the creation of a redevelopment commission in 2012 has helped the small city with a population of 1,750 attract more business.

“It’s more infill redevelopment—one or two lots here and there—because we don’t have large amounts of land to redevelop,” he said.

Still, the activity under way is the most Southport has seen in several years, he said.  

The Limeberrys bought Sophia’s in January 2014 from Andraea Reed, who operated the business from a building about a mile to the west of its current location and outside Southport’s boundaries.

Jessica Limeberry, 32, a wedding photographer, had worked with Reed and was familiar with Sophia’s when Reed put it on the market. Limeberry’s husband is a major in the U.S. Army and is stationed at Camp Atterbury.

Sophia’s was in just 3,200 square feet of leased space—about one-third the size of the new store.

“The business was successful, but it had plateaued,” Limeberry said.

She grew the business by adding more fitting rooms to serve more brides-to-be. But the cramped quarters provided no room for further expansion. So Limeberry began searching for new space and discovered the old post office.

“The extra space was huge for us,” she said. “We wanted to be in a stand-alone building so we could have control over the look and feel of the space. In the bridal industry, we want to make sure we have a great impression from start to finish.”

The additional parking at the new location is an added benefit, too.

Stair Associates Inc. in Carmel was the architect on the project. Sophia’s will celebrate its 10th anniversary in January.



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