The Kokomo Common Council on Monday night took multiple steps to bring an $86 million east-side development closer to reality.
Championship Park, a youth sports complex planned for what is currently Darrough Chapel Park and the area surrounding it, was given three needed approvals related to land and funding for the project.
The council first unanimously approved the second reading of an ordinance rezoning six parcels from a mix of residential classifications to a medium-to-large-scale general commercial classification.
The land is part of the private development portion of Championship Park. The project’s developer, Steve Henke, is expected to invest an estimated $77 million to develop 16 out-lots in the area.
Henke said during an Aug. 12 council meeting the project will include “higher-end, commercial-type retail development into this area,” and has mentioned “a couple of hotels,” along with multiple restaurants and service industry businesses within the project.
Also, the council unanimously passed on second 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 youth fields.
Included are concession stands, restrooms and parking.
Kokomo Deputy Mayor David Tharp has 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.”
Therefore, the council on Monday approved a resolution OKing a TIF, or tax increment financing, district at around Darrough Chapel Park. Measures had previously been approved by the Kokomo Redevelopment Commission and the Plan Commission.
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.
The base assessment date in the Darrough Chapel TIF is Jan. 1, 2019.
In this case, the revenue will be used to make debt service payments on the city’s Championship Park bonds.
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 still not yet known, although the ordinance sets various maximums, like ensuring it does not exceed $9 million or 25 years.
“This will allow the city to actually market these bonds and sell them so that we can continue with the project,” said Common Council Vice President Mike Kennedy about the most recent approval.
Championship Park will next require development plan approval from the Plan Commission. A timeline for that process has not been established, although work on Championship Park is expected to start this year, according to Henke.
Monday night’s meeting did include a handful of concerns regarding Championship Park’s relationship with local youth baseball and softball leagues.
Expressing the concerns were Jenn Goad, a recent former president of Kokomo Girls Softball, and her father, Chuck Sosbe, a former youth baseball coach and a current umpire. The two cited similar worries at a late July council meeting.
“Don’t forget about our local parks, our local ballplayers. I’m asking you to do that,” said Sosbe.
“Especially the girls softball park. It’s atrocious up there, and it needs to be fixed and something needs to be done about that. So while we’re spending millions and millions of dollars for this new complex that’ll be used mostly by kids not even from Kokomo, don’t forget our local groups.”
Goad added: “I just urge you guys to please make sure that our kids are taken care of, because a lot of the signs that I’m seeing my softball girls are going to be left behind.”
Championship Park is expected to host travel baseball and softball games and tournaments on the weekends. And while city officials have insisted the complex will be open to local kids, likely Monday through Thursday, they say it is still too early to finalize specifics.
“Right now we’re going through the mechanics of getting this thing started. We’ve gotten that accomplished,” said Common Council President Bob Hayes.
“[Goad and Sosbe] spoke about leaving the kids behind. That’s farthest from anybody on this council’s thought process. … Will we make everybody happy? No. But I think our kids are going to be able to use this park.”
Hayes encouraged local leagues to evaluate how they currently operate and then look toward the future of youth baseball and softball in Kokomo. His comments came as many in the city urge consolidation of the four youth baseball leagues prior to Championship Park’s arrival.
“We’ve got some great Little Leagues and we’ve got great girls softball. I think it can be worked out. We’ve just got to bring all the stakeholders in,” he said.
Kokomo Parks Superintendent Torrey Roe echoed Hayes’ sentiments.
“We’re going through the process of getting the park built. The next step is working on what the next step looks like, and how we, if the right answer’s consolidation, how we consolidate these. And then what goes on at those outlying parks,” said Roe about whether the city would provide funding to help with existing youth-fields infrastructure.
Leagues are currently tasked with supplying funds to maintain fields, concessions, press boxes, lighting and other features. The city then maintains exterior areas, in part, though mowing and trimming within the surrounding parks.
“The parks aren’t in as bad of shape as what people may make them out to be,” said Roe.
“I think we’ll know more down the road. Right now, again, we’re still in step one of trying to make sure we can get [Championship Park] funded and constructed.”
He added: “We’ll start looking into step two now that step one has passed, and really start looking hard at what we can do about, if it is consolidation, then what this looks like. I’m not going to force anybody to come to the new facility, but if they wish to stay there, what can we do to help?”