Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two-part series. This week focuses on how Tyler Moore will approach the early days of his term, along with his positions on local development and economic growth. Next week will include Moore’s comments on infrastructure and public safety.
Mayor-elect Tyler Moore, nine days off his blowout victory over Democrat Abbie Smith, sat in a Tribune conference room Thursday and considered his future.
It’s a future that was determined on Nov. 5 by nearly 70% of Kokomo voters, and is a future set to be filled with complex, difficult, vital decisions that will run the gamut from plowing city streets to readying Kokomo for a rapidly shifting economy and bringing to fruition vast multi-million-dollar developments.
If nothing else, it’s a future he will share with more than 57,000 Kokomo residents in the most visible way possible — the good and the bad, the celebratory and the controversial.
Moore, who has met twice with outgoing three-term Mayor Greg Goodnight, including a lengthy session Wednesday, is expected this week to reveal a roughly 30-person advisory committee he says will include a diverse group of community leaders.
Nonetheless, Moore says he’s not yet prepared to announce who he’s considering for some of his most crucial administration positions, although he acknowledged he does expect in some instances to promote from within City Hall.
“A handful of those being considered are still within the city administration, as well as police and fire departments, because I had committed to selecting chiefs from within the departments,” he said.
His early policy positions, however, were on full view during a nearly two-hour interview at the Tribune’s offices. In the room were Moore, State Rep. Mike Karickhoff — a member of the transition team — Tribune reporter George Myers, managing editor Sally Mahan and editor Jeff Kovaleski.
The conversation has been edited for length and clarity. Initials precede each person’s comments.
George Myers: Obviously, you go through this period where you’re campaigning constantly, and one night it’s over. And you go on to the next step. What have you been feeling since then? What has the last week been like?
Tyler Moore: As I tell everybody, it’s still so surreal. But it’s been a fun mix of elation, anxiety, anxiousness, anticipation. Just a whirlwind of emotions. I’ve not slowed down, that’s for sure. Everybody’s like, ‘Hey … are you going to Disney World?’ I was like, I wish we could.
But, no, once we got through the emails and the texts and a lot of the congratulatory deal, we assembled the transition core team and sat down and put an initial plan together to start getting folks identified and notified to start the transition process.
GM: When you envision the first 100 days of your administration, what does that look like?
TM: Again, after identifying the police and fire chiefs, sitting with them and their initial leadership to come to a decision on how we jointly and collectively see the departments looking and aggressively approaching that initiative.
But then also we plan on having a financial analysis done. Not an audit. Again, I know early on I had mentioned audit but because of the negative connotation that the term audit typically gives is why I’m saying an analysis.
And it’s not to try to identify or find any wrongdoing, misappropriation or anything. It’s to continue to look for opportunities, because there are a number of projects in process, being proposed that I want to continue. And so just to make sure that the funding’s available, not only for those but to continue on with the operations as we see fit. So, again, more of an identification of opportunities within the budget as opposed to any discrepancies and such.
Moore then pointed out the regularity of incoming administrations examining budgets and the city’s financial condition, while he and Karickhoff referenced a $15 million “oversight” between the Trobaugh and McKillip administrations.
Unintentional, but just something that obviously needed addressed. So it’s for any surprises, but mainly opportunities.
The city has committed to certain liabilities, bond issues and such. So with those coming due in the next two, three, five years or something, we’ll want to have that as part of the game plan to see, again, opportunities or additional cash that can be available so that we can plan ahead to address those than have to scramble.
GM: There are a number of significant projects that are underway or coming down the pipeline. Do you plan to stick to the administration’s current vision on all of those projects?
TM: I think the major ones, you mention the hotel and convention center and Championship Park, it’s my desire and plan to continue those projects as the city has – well, city, county, all the parties – but any change in the scope of either one of those projects will be determined by the conditions or the specifics within the projects themselves.
We’ve already seen with the hotel/convention center, they’ve had to shift gears. … So any change in the scopes of either one of those two projects, will be, in my opinion, due to just the nature of the beast, how those things play out.
Some of the quote-unquote smaller projects that are in place, we’ll analyze those. It’s my intention to honor those, especially that are in process. We also understand that there are a few that have yet to be released, publicized or considered by the council, as well.
Mayor Goodnight and the development department with the city has been very accommodating and has brought us up to speed on some of those and given us the opportunity to look at those and to weigh in on those, as well.
GM: Can you give us any insight into what those projects are that you’ve discussed with [the city]?
TM: A lot of them, I think the majority of them, have to do with housing. So it’s not necessarily part of the specific infill program, but, it’s the [former YMCA] re-purposing … other spots, a lot of it in the downtown area.
But because they have yet to be presented to the council, out of courtesy for the city and for the developers, I’d probably rather not. … But I know that the projects that they shared with us are going to be considered or slated for the next two council meetings.
Moore said he was given information about development projects at the Wednesday meeting with city officials, saying “we still have it to go through and look at each of those a little closer, but on the surface the projects that the mayor and the development department shared with us did not pose any initial concerns about spot zoning or any nonconforming use or anything that just seems too off-the-wall or out of place.”
He added that “fingers crossed” the hotel/conference center project will be done by its current timeline of late 2021.
GM: The city over the last 12 years has identified a number of areas to redevelop. Are there any sites, any areas in town that really stick out to you that you want to redevelop?
TM: I think the one item economic-development-wise that I’ve consistently mentioned that was one of the differences between Ms. Smith and I was the desire to see an industrial park up toward the north end, maybe around the Touby Pike exchange, somewhat close to Ivy Tech.
As I understand it, there has been a lot of interest in the Kokomo area for development, but without site-ready or shovel-ready availability to a lot of those – I know the GM site should be considered and utilized. But with height restrictions of the existing buildings, with the struggle with coming to terms on lease agreements or the potential for environmental issues in the case of a purchase, that hasn’t really been attractive or available.
So I think the need or desire to create an area that does have availability for industry to consider Kokomo to invest is important.
Jeff Kovaleski: You had been pretty consistent during the entire campaign that you wanted to do this. I know the [Greater Kokomo Economic Development Alliance] has been advocating such a thing for a number of years. Is this your number one development idea to launch as soon as you can when you get into office?
TM: An initiative, yes. [It is] a priority for the Moore administration versus Goodnight administration, but the hotel and convention center being a Goodnight administration initiative is still a top priority because the community has really rallied behind both of those projects and see the benefit of it.
As I mentioned before, being strategic about Championship Park, because of course with everybody seeing the ups-and-downs with the hotel/convention, it’s like, do we know that the group’s going to commit to the infrastructure, the retail and the hotel and everything in that area? I have yet to meet with those developers, but that’s still a priority of mine.
But, yes, one that could be considered an initial one for my administration would be an industrial park. And I know then it takes you to the argument, ‘OK, well, you’ve been a county commissioner for 11 years, and some of the available ground out in that area, some’s in the city, some’s in the county, you could very well have done something in the county.’
But I think with the size and scope that may need to be created, I see the benefit of more of a partnership. We need more players to make it more attractive and a better sell. So I think with the county has the desire to do it, and the city now has the desire to look to a development outside of certain areas within the city, it’s a matter of timing.
A discussion ensued about the Alliance’s recent work with Duke Energy in identifying an area east of Indiana Transmission Plants 1 and 2 and west of U.S. 31 for a possible industrial park. It’s a site located near the one described by Moore that would also use the Touby Pike exit.
In late October, Duke Energy presented economic development officials in Howard County with site readiness recommendations for the 150-acre area. If that project is the one that happens, Moore said he “would like to think” the city would contribute financially to its development.
I think the one that I would hope to see come to fruition would be in line with what the Alliance has wanted or has proposed with the help from Duke.
Sally Mahan: On that issue of the economy and industrial parks, do you have anything in mind as far as diversifying the economy? It’s so dependent upon Chrysler workers, so is there any way you would be able to come up with some kind of program to help people train for those next level jobs that are going to be coming because automation is coming? Would you consider working with IUK, Ivy Tech?
TM: Oh, absolutely. Workforce One, there are a lot of resources within Kokomo and Howard County for workforce development training. So to the extent that the city would partner, if it’s providing representation on various boards or if Ivy Tech has an additional expansion, IUK’s additional expansion of Workforce One, having that conversation with them and utilizing those resources to find the ways to allow the city to support those and encourage them.
SM: And finding a way probably to get more high-tech jobs, I would think would be something the city would like to have.
TM: Right. Yes.
GM: Have you identified any ways of doing that, getting more of those high-tech jobs?
TM: Again, that’s part of the conversation I think that we would need to have with members on the Alliance. With the three-member Board of Commissioners, I know Commissioner Wyman being the board president has been our representation on the executive board.
So not knowing exactly what the conversation has already been on the executive committee there, but using that group – because it’s just an amazing group. I mean, you’ve got Chrysler, GM, both hospitals, both higher education institutions. It’s just a wealth of knowledge … that utilizing that group to again find opportunities and then partnering with them to attract, to develop.
If it is the industrial park, to entice other industry, to diversify the economy, then utilize that and kind of springboard off of that to look to workforce development.
GM: You talked during the forum about developing along the bypass. What’s your vision for that? What kind of development are we talking about along the bypass?
TM: Definitely not heavy in retail or that type of commercial – retail, hotel. I know the selling point and the attraction of Championship Park is to have some retail and hotel and such, and that was the initial fear with allowing any type of development along the bypass, was that McDonald’s and BP and the Cracker Barrels would all rush out there.
And I think we still need to be strategic and somewhat restrictive on any type of additional development along [the bypass] and keep it more toward commercial and industry in nature.
GM: Are you worried about running utilities and infrastructure out along these bypass areas? That it might be an expensive undertaking?
TM: And that could be part of the negotiations. It’s my understanding with Championship Park that the development group is being the one that is kind of leading the installation for a lot of that infrastructure. So that would be part of the negotiation or the sell of the area … to look at incentives either way.
But, yeah, that would definitely be a concern. And it may have been one of the main reasons the current administration didn’t want to head out that way for the additional costs it would incur, providing any type of infrastructure out there. But if the need is there and the resources are available and the interest with developers is high, then that could definitely be something we could work into the agreement.
GM: You mentioned how Championship Park will bring a lot of retail and hotels. Does that make you a little bit nervous about what that project is bringing to the community? Do you think it could take away from some of the existing businesses?
TM: No, I don’t think so. With the excitement that’s surrounding the development, again, I think if it’s done – it’s not like it’s going to be a huge sprawl. It’s still going to be concentrated. And with the proximity that it is to 931, I think it’ll just help enhance and support what’s already on 931.
He goes on to mention a 2016 study conducted by IUK’s business school on the local economic impact of the U.S. 31 bypass.
And really it had little to no effect and actually helped a lot of [businesses] get some of the heavier traffic off of it. With that interchange being so close and already having the dealership and everything, it’ll just look like kind of a pimple off of 931. It’ll just be an extension of it as opposed to something that’ll necessarily compete.
GM: Smith and Goodnight have said it is important for Kokomo to try to get as close to Indianapolis as possible. Do you have that same philosophy? Do you think the southern corridor that’s mentioned is a vital area, and do you think Kokomo needs to get as close to Indianapolis as possible?
TM: No, I think Kokomo just needs to continue to make Kokomo as attractive as we can so that folks in Westfield and Noblesville think, ‘Oh, what do I want to do tonight? Oh, it’s the same-old, same-old, well, let’s drive up to Kokomo because we’ve got this and this and this.’
And the same way looking at it regionally I don’t want to ignore our neighbors to the north. I just heard this morning at the Chamber meeting … that almost 40% of the Miami County workforce drives to Kokomo to work. So, yes, still make sure that we’re attractive and have some love with our neighbors to the south, but at the same don’t ignore our neighbors to the north, northeast, northwest and such, because there are a lot that still come to Kokomo to entertain, to shop, to eat and such.
So I think just continuing to make Kokomo, again, a destination place. It’s the same thing that Mayor Goodnight’s done. I mean, it worked, focusing on quality of place. I think the more we do to assure that and to secure that will allow us to remain attractive to Indianapolis. It’s still a hop, skip and a jump.
Either way, whether folks live here and work there, live there and work here or entertain here, it’s definitely something – not to ignore the southern corridor. But I know the city’s been in talks with [the Indiana Department of Environmental Management] for years, I think for as long as I’ve been a commissioner, to try and get 931 relinquished. It all comes down to money and such, so we’ll continue to head down that path with them to see if there is that opportunity.
And Mayor Goodnight has some great ideas for how 931 could be re-purposed, as well. We could look at that if we’re able to work something out with IDEM. But, I mean, it could even be a discussion that predated his term.