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Championship Park represents about face for local development

Development marks the first allowed along bypass since the highway’s construction

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Champion Park

THE NEXT GRAND PARK? — An overhead shot shows Grand Park in Westfield. The same group that constructed the complex is bringing a similar development to Kokomo along the bypass.

In 2013, construction of the U.S. 31 bypass concluded. The project sowed fear in business owners located along what would become State Road 931, fearing the bypass would redirect traffic away from the business-laden corridor.

To alleviate concerns and control development along the bypass, the city annexed six square miles of land along the area, aiming to prevent existing businesses from relocating there and controlling any potential new growth that would draw potential business patrons away from the city’s core.

But earlier this year, Henke Development’s Championship Park was announced, the first major development to occur along the bypass. The complex is slated to include eight baseball fields and space for a myriad of potential businesses, such as hotels, retail, and restaurants, to be constructed at the intersection of the bypass and Markland Avenue. Should the about-face in policy concern business owners residing in the S.R. 931 corridor?

According to Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight, the decision to allow for rezoning of the land for Championship Park wasn’t one that was reached easily. But, simply put, there wasn’t land that fit his desires for the $86 million development.

“We examined where they are,” said Goodnight. “Think of over by Duke Energy or out on the south end. You could find large enough parcels maybe that could house this, but not where it’s already city-owned. Just the land acquisitions would have made this much more expensive.”

But for several reasons, Goodnight claimed the implementation of Championship Park shouldn’t create a negative impact on existing businesses.

Most notably, Goodnight contended that most of the out-of-town traffic that will be drawn to the complex will be self-driven in the sense that those coming to the park, ideally baseball players accompanied by families, wouldn’t be coming to the City of Firsts except to come to the park.

Secondly, the businesses that will be housed within the complex will be new to the community as well. And, its location on the western portion of the bypass still keeps the complex relatively close to the businesses along S.R. 931.

“By having two high-quality quadplexes, it creates a whole new destination for our community,” said Goodnight. “As I said, if this was just an independent commercial development, I probably would not have been supportive of whether it happened or not.”

By and large, Alan Krabbenhoft, dean of the Indiana University Kokomo School of Business, agreed with Goodnight’s assessments about whether Championship Park would negatively impact the S.R. 931 corridor.

“I don’t think this is that far away down Markland that it’s going to have a significant impact … I don’t think it’s problematic in any way,” said Krabbenhoft.

Even the potential development of hotels within the complex, which is likely and occurring at a time when another hotel soon will rise out of downtown Kokomo, didn’t give Krabbenhoft reason for concern. In his opinion, hotels built within Championship Park wouldn’t negatively impact existing hotels in the area.

“The problem we have already is all of our hotels are almost fully booked almost all the time,” said Krabbenhoft. “If it is during the week it’s because usually of Fiat Chrysler or other businesses in the area hosting business people. On the weekends there’s just not enough hotel space in Westfield to hit those people, so they are filling up the Hampton, the Motel 6, the Courtyard, and the like. What we’re doing is simply saying, ‘OK, we’re going to make those rooms scarcer if we build this thing up here if we don’t have some additional hotel space.’”

Krabbenhoft noted the development is likely to create spillover patronage for businesses near Championship Park but not included in it.

“In fact, given the fact that this is just off Markland, you’re not far from Markland and 931 where you’ve got an awful lot of options up and down that corner,” said Krabbenhoft. “People probably will have to come in that way.”

But, Krabbenhoft did have one warning. According to Goodnight, no other plans exist for further development while he’s in office. His term ends at the end of the year, and a new mayor will step into the fold at that time.

While it’s a benefit for the city to have the Henke Development on the west side of the bypass, according to Krabbenhoft, future development extending outward to the eastern side of the bypass could begin to detract from businesses along the S.R. 931 corridor.

“Moving further east of the intersection there creates some level of concern,” said Krabbenhoft. “I think then it would be a discussion and probably some town hall meetings that would need to be had to what promises were made when the bypass was built to the local community members.

“We’ve shown the bypass has been a positive impact, and the people there gave us the data to decide that. They were all scared to death that basically the 931 corridor would totally dry up, and nobody would drive by their business. But it actually made it that much easier to traverse. But the minute you start to move it a little bit further east, and, depending upon what you build there, I think you do run the risk of detracting not only from the Markland area but also from the 931 area and maybe even the downtown.”