Updated downtown hotel, conference center rendering

This photo shows a four-level parking garage that has been added to the downtown Kokomo hotel and conference center project.

Plans for Kokomo's downtown hotel and conference center project now include a four-level parking garage and a public rooftop space above the incoming Hilton Garden Inn, officials announced Monday morning.

New details about the project and its developer emerged in a media release distributed by the city of Kokomo, including a timeline showing construction will begin this fall, followed by an expected opening in spring 2021.

The project, which was first announced in July 2018, was initially expected to open next spring.

Also announced Monday was the project’s new developer: MWA Kokomo LLC, led by Vincent Dora, president and chief operating officer of Dora Hospitality Group.

The company’s website describes Dora Hospitality as “third-party hotel management” that “develops and operates both branded and boutique hotels, with a focus on the Midwestern United States.”

The need for a new developer emerged after its original developer, Dora Hotel Co., led by Tim Dora, stepped away from the project. Tim Dora, in fact, is the uncle of Vincent Dora, although the two companies operate separately.  

The Hilton Garden Inn, meanwhile, will remain a six-story building with 123 rooms, as originally announced. Added to the hotel is the public rooftop space, which will feature a bar.

The release also referenced "improvements to the look of the conference center that will tie it directly to Kokomo’s industrial history." It noted that "modifications to the design will provide a larger space for the Kokomo Automotive Museum."

With the design changes, explained Kokomo Deputy Mayor David Tharp, the conference center gains additional balcony space while the automotive museum will see increased interior space.

The museum is expected to still have a ground-level entrance and be situated on a second level below the conference center since the parcel slopes toward Wildcat Creek.

Both the conference center and auto museum were originally announced to have 22,000 square feet of space. Those totals are now expected to increase, although exact square-footage amounts were not available Monday.

Still moving into the conference center upon its completion will be the Greater Kokomo Visitors Bureau, the Greater Kokomo Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Kokomo Downtown Association.

The project's most notable change announced Monday is the inclusion of a four-level public parking garage with approximately 180 spaces and 2,400 square feet of retail space on the first floor.

The garage, which will be the second parking garage in downtown Kokomo, will be located at the northwest corner of Superior and Union streets and will have a Superior Street entrance. A parking lot is currently located on the corner.

The garage’s entrance, said the release, will make "it convenient to guests of the hotel/conference center and the auto museum."

Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight told the Tribune the city will pay cash for the estimated $6.5 million public parking garage. The city will own and develop the garage.

“We are excited that the overall development has grown to include a new public parking garage with retail space, located directly across Superior Street from the Hotel and Conference Center,” he said in an emailed statement.

“Due to the City’s strong financial shape and cash reserves, there will be no bonding required for this mixed use garage.”

Goodnight said the garage “will be available for visitors to the hotel, conference center, auto museum and for the general public for daily and event use.”

Cleared for the hotel and conference center, meanwhile, is the block between Main and Union streets, bordered by Superior Street to the north and Wildcat Creek to the south. It used to hold a CityLine Trolley stop and various offices already demolished by local crews. 

Goodnight confirmed the cost of the hotel and conference center has risen $3 million from the total first announced last summer. Previous estimates placed the cost of the hotel at $18 million and the conference center and auto museum at $8 million – totaling $26 million.

“Due to various increases in construction costs related to tariffs and the tight labor market, the estimated overall cost of the hotel and conference center (excluding garage) is $29 million,” noted Goodnight.

“However, this slightly higher cost includes new features such as a roof top space, enhanced outdoors areas for the conference center, and expanded square footage for the auto museum.”

Exactly how that cost will be split between the project’s partners has yet to be revealed; Tharp said Monday that officials “are still finalizing the remaining details.”

Pieces of a spending plan have emerged, with Howard County officials settling on a contribution amount that will include $150,000 per year for 15 years.

Revenue generated by an increase in the county innkeeper’s tax – a measure bumping the tax from 5 to 8 percent is expected to pass the county council this month – is slated to be spent the conference center.

A spending arrangement from the city was also made public last summer and included up to $3.9 million in bonds combined with an undetermined amount of cash reserves "to advance funds for the construction of the conference center," Tharp said at the time.  

On top of that, the city said it will use cash reserves generated from a Tax Increment Financing district to fund a $2 million forgivable loan to the project’s developer.

Following the developer switch and the changes announced Monday, however, new details about the city’s exact financial role have yet to be fully revealed, along with the total amount of private money involved in the project.

Updated renderings of the hotel and conference center have yet to be created, but the project is expected to have a new aesthetic from what was revealed last summer, although the hotel and conference center will be designed similarly.  

In the release, Dora said the project’s amenities, “including the new parking facility, really increase the appeal.”

“With all of the changes in Kokomo, we knew this was a community we wanted to invest in. The location, which is central to all the downtown amenities, will be attractive to visitors to the city,” he noted.

Goodnight and Howard County Commissioner Paul Wyman expressed excitement about the project and what it could mean for the city's downtown.

“This important project is the culmination of a lot of hard work,” said Goodnight. “The addition of new amenities, like a rooftop public space and a parking garage with retail space, takes the project to a higher level. It enhances the city’s ability to attract conferences and events as well as drawing new visitors to Kokomo.”

Wyman added: “This project is a transformational project for our community. The addition of the hotel/conference center and a new space for the auto museum will enable thousands of people to visit and experience the great things Kokomo and Howard County have to offer.

"The addition of the parking garage will not only make it easier for guests of the Conference Center and those downtown for other events, it will also offer unique retail and restaurant opportunities. This whole project is going to be something really unique and enriching for our community.”

Kirk Daniels, president of the Greater Kokomo Visitors Bureau board, echoed their comments.

“Our interest is attracting people from outside the community. Getting people to spend the night here, conduct business here and enjoy everything the community has to offer. But we also win because we get to have a new facility that will attract visitors and at the same time residents get to use it as well. It will be a great spot for events like midsize conferences, specialty meetings and trade association events.”

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

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