Championship Park rendering

This rendering is of Championship Park, a planned $86 million development for Kokomo's east side.

The Kokomo Common Council Monday night passed a series of measures pushing forward the proposed $86 million Championship Park, outlining specifics about the city’s financial commitment and rezoning property on its east side.

It’s the latest progress on a project that will reshape an area along U.S. 31, Markland Avenue and Goyer Road, and bring tens of millions worth of private development to a complex that will also feature eight baseball and softball fields.

Council members voted unanimously to transition six parcels from a mix of residential classifications to a medium- to large-scale general commercial classification.

The ordinance was passed on first reading and will require second reading approval from the council at a subsequent meeting.

The vote followed a presentation from Henke Development Group CEO Steve Henke, similar to the one he gave in July to the Kokomo City Plan Commission, which forwarded to the council a favorable recommendation for the rezonings.

Henke – who said he started acquiring property in the Kokomo project site “a number of years ago” and more recently acquired land from local churches – is the project’s developer and is best known for his work on the Grand Park Sports Complex in Westfield.

He is expected to invest an estimated $77 million to develop 16 out-lots on land east of Darrough Chapel Park.

“We would be bringing a higher-end, commercial-type retail development into this area,” said Henke, who has previously mentioned “a couple of hotels,” along with multiple restaurants and service industry businesses within the project.

He noted Monday that his previous projects have sported businesses like Walgreens, service stations, a small grocery, IHOP, eateries and pubs, office space, multi-family and senior housing, day cares, banks and even dentist offices.

Also speaking before the council was Joe Thatcher, a Kokomo native and former Major League Baseball player who is the co-founder and owner of Pro X Athlete Development at Grand Park.

Thatcher has served as a public advocate for Championship Park since its unveiling in early July.

“I am truly excited, if this project happens, how it’s going to benefit our community, not only economically but socially as well,” said Thatcher.

He added: “I’ve seen [the Henke Development Group’s] developments and what they bring, and it’ll be a world-class facility. It’ll bring visitors to our community from all over the country, but most importantly it’ll be an avenue for our kids to play baseball and softball out there.”

The project, meanwhile, received support from Vernon Graves, who runs the Kokomo Event and Conference Center on Indiana 931 and whose family owns the city’s La Quinta Inn & Suites.

Graves said “if they develop it like they did Grand Park I think it’ll be a boost for the community, and if they bring in out-of-town visitors it will help all the restaurants and all the hotels in Kokomo, and maybe even the shopping centers.”

Common Council President Bob Hayes said in an interview after the meeting that Championship Park’s private development could also become a focal point for existing residents.

“It’s just like what they did with Markland Mall. Now we got a Panda Express coming up, and I hear there’s talk of other restaurants coming in there,” he said.

“That is not just for the out-of-town visitors; that’s going to be good for the residents of Kokomo that got a choice. It puts us into the level of competition – we’ve always been complaining about Hamilton County. Well, hey, Howard County’s going to be on the move.”

The council also unanimously passed on first reading an ordinance issuing $9 million in bonds to finance the costs of constructing four high-school-sized baseball and softball fields, along with four Little League fields.

Included are concession stands, restrooms and parking.

A public hearing on the bonds ordinance will be held Aug. 26, after which council members will vote on the its second reading.

Kokomo Deputy Mayor David Tharp said that while the ordinance says payments are backed by the LIT (local income tax), the city plans to “use the increment generated from the commercial investment to the east as the permanent way to make the bond payments.”

In other words, the city is in the process of creating a Darrough Chapel Park TIF, or tax increment financing, district.

The TIF district will cover Darrough Chapel Park and the athletic fields, along with the private development east of the park.

A TIF district is a specific geographic area where property tax revenue raised on new assessed value is captured by the city’s Redevelopment Commission for investment in the TIF area.

In essence, the property value of real estate within the TIF district at the time the district is established is considered the area’s base value; everything over that is then captured by the RDC and used on economic development or other projects or funding inside the TIF district.

In this case, the revenue will be used to make debt service payments on the city’s Championship Park bonds.

The process of establishing the TIF district was started during a July 25 RDC meeting and was slated to appear before the Plan Commission Tuesday night.

It is expected to be reviewed by the Common Council on Aug. 26.

As the Championship Park project gets underway, said Tharp, the 2020 budget will “reflect a portion of the bond payment being made from Park funds and a portion from [Economic Development Income Tax] funds.”

Specific terms of the bond are not yet know, he said, although the ordinance sets various maximums, like ensuring it does not exceed $9 million or 25 years.

In conjunction, council members unanimously passed on second reading an amendment to the Kokomo Zoning Ordinance and Map to ensure each of the project's parcels fall under the same regional center overlay, giving Plan Commission members one set of standards to consider during upcoming development plan consideration.

George Myers can be reached at 765-454-8585, by email at george.myers@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @gmyerskt.

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George Myers covers city and county government. He joined the Kokomo Tribune on November 18, 2014.