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Kokomo files suit against state over baseball stadium

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Future baseball stadium

PLAY BALL: Walton native Dan McCloskey aided the design for the new Kokomo Municipal Stadium as the project's lead architect. The stadium is expected to open in April 2015.

The City of Kokomo filed a lawsuit today against Indiana Department of Homeland Security Executive Director David Kane and the IDHS in an effort to seek “declarative and injunctive relief” pertaining to the IDHS’ order to stop construction on the city’s baseball stadium project.

The lawsuit, which was filed in the Marion County Environmental Court, states the IDHS’ refusal to “honor the City’s contractual right to build the facility in accordance with the terms agreed to by the parties” is inhibiting the city’s ability to complete the project.

“We have honored our agreement with IDHS and it is unfortunate that the City of Kokomo has to file this legal action,” said Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight. “Kokomo Municipal Stadium is a catalyst for economic growth. Local high schools and the Prospect League Kokomo Jackrabbits will call it home. It is the center of nearly $40 million in investments, job creation and economic development. IDHS’s actions are big government overreach at its worst.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the IDHS sent letters to Goodnight on Nov. 24 informing the city of construction violations on eight parcels within the baseball stadium project, per deed restrictions put in place by the Hazard Mitigation Program.

"The agency does not wish to halt economic development, but at the same time, the terms of the grant agreement are clear and IDHS will not risk FEMA penalizing the entire state by withholding what could be tens of millions of dollars over an extended period of time," said IDHS spokesman John Erickson. "IDHS will present its side of the case in court."

On Friday, Erickson expressed a different sentiment, saying there was no concern of FEMA grants being withdrawn.

“As long as IDHS is handling the situation on FEMA’s behalf, FEMA will not withdraw funds," Erickson said Friday. "We are on solid ground when it comes to the whole state.” 

In the lawsuit, Kokomo states that city officials designed the eight parcels in accordance with the agreed upon terms of the grant.

The city goes on to say that each parcel will be used for open space or recreation, and that four of the properties will not include a structure.

Of the four that will contain a structure, the lawsuit states, “the City designed them to comply with the contract terms by (i) raising the structures on pillars to ensure they are open on all sides of the parcels and functionally related to the open space use, or (ii) building public restrooms on the affected parcels, or (iii) both.”

In the lawsuit, the city expresses its belief that any action taken by the IDHS could have dire consequences for the city and on all economic development throughout the community.

“If IDHS is permitted to stop construction of the project, it will cripple or eliminate planned development in downtown Kokomo and drain the resources of the City,” the lawsuit states. “The City would suffer irreparable harm from delay of the proposed stadium and its surrounding projects. The City would lose significant amounts of money, as well as potential and realized economic development, jobs, and tax revenue, without any legal recourse against IDHS or anyone else.”

The IDHS has given the city a Jan. 27 deadline to correct the construction violations and has repeatedly said it will pursue legal action if the city does not begin to correct violations by the deadline.

And while the IDHS will continue to enforce tomorrow’s deadline, the department does not have a timeline for when it will file a lawsuit of its own, said Erickson.

“That is our first day to take action, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we will take action,” said Erickson. “We are still evaluating, but I can say that if they do not bring the properties back into compliance, we will be taking action rather quickly.”

The city also included a copy for the stadium’s corrective action plan in the lawsuit, which was rejected by FEMA on Friday.

Throughout the final corrective action plan, which was the second submitted by the city, City Engineer Carey Stranahan addressed the eight parcels and proposed a variety of construction adjustments, including the elimination of a picnic area wall and the addition of steel columns.

“In the Redesign, identified as Exhibit 12, each of the eight Parcels will continue to be used for open space or recreation in satisfaction of the Agreed Terms,” the lawsuit states.

A letter sent from FEMA Regional Administrator Andre Velasquez III to Kane says the city’s modified plan continued to have “non-compliant structures” on the restricted land.

In the same letter, Velasquez stated “it has come to FEMA’s attention that the City plans to pursue additional development on other parcels of land acquired under the HMGP."

The property in question would be part of the redevelopment of the Northern Indiana Supply Company. The project was given more than $5.2 million in tax credits last year and consists of 180 high-end apartments near the baseball stadium.

George Myers can be reached at 765-993-4724, by email at george.myers@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @gpmyerskt.

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

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