If someone wants an indication of how not to approach building a convention center, look no further than Muncie.
With its massive exhibition hall, no nearby hotel and a lack of restaurants and bars within easy walking distance, Muncie’s convention center is suffering from a lack of use, said Rob Hunden, the Carmel-based consultant who Monday proposed a much different approach for Kokomo.
Call it the next phase of Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight’s downtown master plan.
Hunden, hired by the Kokomo visitors bureau to research the possibility of adding a hotel/convention facility to the emerging mix in downtown, said Monday the right facility would draw visitors to the area without sacrificing the hotels along Ind. 931.
He envisions a 150-room hotel and restaurant, rising several stories from the mostly vacant block between Main and Union streets north of the Wildcat Creek, combined with around 13,000 feet of meeting and ballroom space.
Rough estimates put the cost of such a facility at around $25 million, and Hunden said in all likelihood, public funds would be needed to cover about half of the cost. By comparison, the Ivy Tech Kokomo Event & Conference Center has about 35,000 square feet of space.
For the investment, Kokomo would get a well-decorated facility, not overly vast, but suitable for weddings, reunions, sports, entertainment, religious and fraternal events. Most importantly, the space would be connected to a hotel.
Kokomo currently has 10 hotels, the most recent built in 1998. Three of the hotels have been renovated in the past decade, including two renovated just last year. None of the hotels is connected to any of the four banquet/gathering spaces located in Kokomo.
He said Kokomo could add a new hotel downtown and, if the number of rooms was kept below a certain threshold, the convention center traffic would be heavy enough to force visitors to seek out other hotels for accommodation.