City officials and a private developer revealed plans Tuesday for an $86 million development that will combine youth sports and commercial opportunities in an effort to reshape Kokomo’s east side.
It is a vast, comprehensive project the two sides hope will significantly bolster an area of Kokomo positioned directly off U.S. 31, while also taking advantage of a booming youth sports tourism industry and furthering the city’s ties with the growing Indianapolis metro area.
The project’s announcement from the city of Kokomo and Henke Development Group came in a media release distributed late Tuesday morning that disclosed what has been named Championship Park of Kokomo.
The project will include two clusters of multi-purpose athletic fields and various commercial attractions meant in large part for the out-of-town families and visitors expected to utilize the fields during summer sports tournaments and other events.
In coordination with the fields, Henke Development Group, which worked on the enormous Grand Park Sports Complex in Westfield, plans to invest an estimated $77 million to develop 16 out-lots on land east of Darrough Chapel Park.
The development is expected to include new business, office, retail and restaurant space. Also mentioned in the announcement was space for new hotels; it did not specify a number of hotels to be accommodated within the project.
The city, meanwhile, plans to contribute an estimated $9 million to create the eight new multi-purpose fields, comprised of four high-school-sized and four youth-league-sized fields at Darrough Chapel Park. All facilities will be outdoors.
To pay for its end, the city will establish a TIF, or Tax Increment Finance, district in the project area, said Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight.
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 inside the TIF district.
“The money will come from the private investment made by the developer. There may be some initial up-front [costs], some sewer work, some of that stuff. I know [Henke is] going to put some money in it as well,” said Goodnight.
“But eventually, hopefully in a short amount of time, it will pay for itself through the investment in the private sector. … My goal is it pays for the public investment and then some.”
Site work on the project is expected to start later this year. An opening date has not been established.
“We hope we get shovels in the ground by the end of the year,” noted Goodnight, who said discussions with Henke Development Group CEO Steve Henke have been ongoing since at least 2017.
After the start of initial discussions, the mayor explained, the development company began to monitor Kokomo’s economy, make site visits and stay in touch with Kokomo officials.
“I will say this: Like a lot of developments, these things take, a lot of times, multiple months and sometimes a year or two, or longer. We’ve been in discussions with them for at least two years,” noted Goodnight.
The artificial-turf fields, according to a rendering, will be arranged in two quad-plex, diamond-shaped setups with concessions and other amenities positioned in the middle of the arrangements.
Parts of Darrough Chapel Park – like the Veteran's Memorial, which includes multiple dedications to veterans and their families, along with bricks and engravings honoring specific local veterans – will remain intact near the park's entrance.
The rest of the park will be completely revamped.
“This will be a tremendous asset for our local sports programs,” said Goodnight in the release. “From baseball to softball, a facility of this kind will create opportunities for the youth in the community.
“This also will bring an influx of visitors to Kokomo each weekend during tournament season.”
In addition to Grand Park, Henke Development Group developed The Club at Chatham Hills, a residential golf course community in Westfield that opened in 2016.
“Henke Development is excited to bring a championship-level project to the City of Kokomo, The Championship Park of Kokomo,” said Steve Henke, who could not be reached for further comment.
“This mixed-use development will incorporate the highest-quality turf softball and baseball fields for all levels from Little League to high school. This athletic complex will be coupled with premium commercial development sites which will include retail, hospitality, offices and many other quality tax-generating businesses for the City."
He added: "Our goal is not only to provide a premier youth sports and commercial destination, but it will also be a place for the residents of Kokomo to be proud of.”
Property records show Henke Development Group LLC already has purchased multiple properties on the city’s east side. In conjunction, Phil Sundling, the director of development for Henke Development, is slated to appear before the Kokomo Plan Commission on July 9 to request rezoning for six parcels.
Plan Commission members will also vote to amend the city’s Zoning Ordinance and Map in a way that will “establish a clear development and redevelopment standard which will facilitate new development and redevelopment opportunities” in the area of the project, according to a meeting agenda.
Henke’s Kokomo project will be substantially smaller than the 400-acre Grand Park, which boasts 31 soccer and multipurpose fields and 26 baseball and softball diamonds, including an indoor facility. It attracts 750,000 annual visitors, according to the complex’s website.
Goodnight, however, said that while Kokomo’s project won’t be as large as Grand Park, it will “meet or exceed their quality.”
“I think a fair comparison would be with the quad-plexes you see around Indiana and the Midwest. And most cities have something like that; that’s just an asset that we have not had,” he noted.
Goodnight believes people will visit Kokomo’s incoming development, despite that bevy of options, for a simple reason: a desire for variation.
“Most people that are in these traveling leagues, and I’ve got family members and a lot of friends whose kids play travel sports, they don’t want to go to the same place and play on the same field all summer long,” he said about a youth sports industry that according to one study is worth $17 billion.
“I think that’s a big part of it, is just us getting Kokomo on the circuit.”
It will also be a place for young, local athletes, he noted, to play a variety of sports.
Included in the city's media release was a quote from for Major League Baseball player and Kokomo native Joe Thatcher, who has been involved with developing an athlete development facility at Grand Park.
In Kokomo, Thatcher is expected to work with local youth baseball and softball leagues in conjunction with the new development.
“Championship Park will be a positive for the baseball community in Kokomo,” remarked Thatcher. “A facility of this size and quality will allow the development of softball and baseball programs locally to excel to levels they’ve never seen."
The project, said Kokomo’s mayor, is also a step toward growing Kokomo’s connection with the Indianapolis metro area, which is the fastest growing area in Indiana.
“I’ve been saying this for a while – and so have other people – that we need to tie ourselves to the Indy metropolitan area,” noted Goodnight. “U.S. 31, [Indiana 931] needs to be a two-way street. Instead of us just going down there and helping their economy, we need them to come up here and help fuel our economy.
“That’s the biggest part, is getting visitors to our city, even if it’s just for two- or three-day tournaments. Getting them acclimated with Kokomo and the things we have to offer, I think that’s the best benefit. And then throw in the private development as well.”