Building the facility downtown would be crucial, Hunden said, because of the uncertainty facing the Ind. 931 corridor, now that the new U.S. 31 bypass is drawing traffic away from the highway.
“We feel that 931 is a real challenge for the city,” Hunden said. “If anything, this is going to diversify your offerings and bring people into town.”
Hunden confessed to being somewhat skeptical about the downtown area until he learned more about the momentum generated by new downtown establishments and the YMCA and city-backed parking garage/apartment project.
With the news this week of a comedy club and a pizzeria opening soon along Sycamore Street, there’s more evidence a pedestrian-friendly restaurant and bar district is starting to form downtown.
Kokomo, he said, is like a lot of places which struggle against preconceived notions.
“Once you introduce this alternate reality to them, it’s a game changer. It’s a head turner,” he said. “Anybody who hasn’t been there has no conception of what it is, and once they come and visit, they say, ‘This is great.’”
Chris Hamm, interim director of the Greater Kokomo Economic Development Alliance, cautioned the block between Union and Main might not be the final location of the project and said the next step will involve serious discussions as to whether to perform an impact study to get more in-depth data on how much economic activity the project could generate.
A final decision and a ground-breaking could be two years of planning away; Hunden’s projections showed estimates for a 2017 opening.
The city of Kokomo, the likely source of any financial support, would ultimately decide the fate of the project, and Hamm warned that a big “litmus test” would come when and if the city moves to secure private funding.