The construction timeline on the new downtown hotel and conference center is coming into focus after the Indiana Department of Environmental Management Monday gave the all-clear at the site and determined chemicals and other contaminants found there don’t pose a health threat.
IDEM in March issued a letter to the Kokomo Community Development Corporation declaring the contamination does not present a threat to human health or the environment on the 1.6 acres on which the conference center will be built.
However, 0.6 acres on the south end of the property on which a parking lot will be built still needed to be cleared for the full project to move forward.
That happened on Monday, when IDEM issued a final letter declaring the last parcels also did not present a threat to human health or the environment.
City officials have now signed a covenant on the entire project site agreeing not to use or extract the groundwater for any purpose, including human or animal consumption, gardening, industrial processes or agriculture, without approval from IDEM.
The all-clear from IDEM comes after an environmental study, commissioned by the city and completed in February 2018, found levels of more than a dozen compounds and substances in the soil and groundwater that are above the approved limits set by IDEM.
That led the state to launch an investigation into the site to determine the extent and cause of the contamination. Now, that investigation is complete.
The effort to get IDEM’s approval on building at the site was put on the fast track earlier this year, when the project was placed within the Indiana Brownfields Program. IDEM officials said the program allows the developers to move forward with the hotel and conference center, while ensuring the project’s development is not harming human health or the environment.
The city has been conducting environmental studies at the construction site since 2013, when it acquired the first parcel of property there at 212 S. Main St. Since then, the city acquired three other parcels of land there, all of which underwent environmental inspections.
The all-clear from IDEM comes after Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight said in a recent interview with Indiana Public Media that construction will begin soon on the parking garage being built across Superior Street from the hotel and conference center.
Goodnight, pointing out the markings that have been put down in the existing parking lot southwest of City Hall, in the area that will become home to the parking garage, said work like soil boring has already started.
“That [the parking garage] will be the first thing you’ll see going up here. … I know the ground will be broken this fall, and construction is going to begin this fall. Probably sometime in early November,” said Goodnight.
The parking garage – planned to have around 180 spaces and 2,400 square feet of retail space on the first floor – is expected to cost the city roughly $6.5 million.
The four-level development, which will be the second parking garage in downtown Kokomo, was announced as an addition to the development in early June. The garage will be located at the northwest corner of Superior and Union streets and will have a Superior Street entrance.
Goodnight has previously said it “will be available for visitors to the hotel, conference center, auto museum and for the general public for daily and event use.”
Construction will then follow on the hotel and conference center project itself, which has an anticipated spring 2021 opening.
The development is set to include a six-story, 123-room Hilton Garden Inn and an adjoining 22,000-square-foot conference center. Project plans also include an automotive museum and a public rooftop space, including a bar. The project, excluding the garage, is expected to cost $29 million.
And as Goodnight prepares to leave office at the end of 2019, both of Kokomo’s mayoral candidates have expressed support for the hotel and conference center project, saying they will support its continued development.
Asked about the development at Thursday’s forum, Democrat Abbie Smith said it “can become a central focus of commerce for the city” and “would remain a priority of mine.”
Part of that focus will be the project’s expected inclusion of the Kokomo Automotive Museum.
Republican Tyler Moore, who is part of a Howard County Board of Commissioners that has committed $150,000 out of its Economic Development Income Tax budget to the project each year for 15 years, said he would continue to work with the slew of involved parties and keep it moving forward.
“I do feel it would be an asset to the community,” he remarked, acknowledging he had no updated information about the project’s current standing outside what had been relayed in media reports.