New life soon may come to an empty downtown lot that previously was occupied by the historic Barko building and has sat empty for five years.
Last week, Fortune Companies presented a plan to the Kokomo Plat Committee to erect condos and office space on the lot, and it was approved with a favorable recommendation. The lot has sat stagnant since the Barko building was leveled in 2016. Now, Fortune Companies Owner Scott Pitcher said the plan is to develop the space into a two-story building to fill the hole downtown.
“The Barko building represents sort of a missing tooth on the square,” Pitcher said. “It unbalances the square because it’s just a big gap there. So it’s good that we’re able to fill it in.”
The first floor of the building, according to Pitcher’s development plan, will offer three separate 1,200-square-foot commercial spaces, and the second floor will be made into three 2,100-square-foot condos with attached garages.
The development will have 24 parking spaces behind the building. While Pitcher said he would like to sell the spaces, he would be open to renting.
The development comes with a $1.5 million price tag, and Pitcher said he plans to build in a way that “fits the downtown area.”
For example, repurposed limestone will be used on the building to make it seem like the building always has been in that space, Pitcher said, in order to be sympathetic to the historical aspects of downtown Kokomo.
“You want your downtown to feel kind of quaint, like it was all built at one time and not a hodge-podge of different architectural styles,” Pitcher said. “Kokomo is right now recognized for having some very nice historical stock left. You see some cities through the 1960s and ‘70s that went in and tore down all of their historical stock and put up buildings that today look very dated and have no personality. Some cities used a lot of, when it was popular, precast concrete, so it just looks very industrial downtown. And then you blend that type of architecture with older architecture and then new architecture, and then you got a mixture that gets real confusing.”
A quitclaim deed moved ownership of the lot to the city of Kokomo in 2017. The property then was given to the Kokomo Community Development Corporation before ownership was given to Pitcher in December of last year.
The desire for downtown living continues to grow, Pitcher said. The developer pointed to the Superior Street Apartments that Fortune Companies is currently constructing as proof.
According to the developer, the apartment building already has three of its 16 units leased, with construction expected to be finished by May.
Fortune Companies also is in the process of developing the former YMCA building into apartments, which will feature 38 units. The $5 million investment is expected to be completed in the next six months.
“If you look at Superior (Street Apartments) and Barko and the Y, we’re filling in areas that were gaps in the downtown,” Pitcher said. “Filling them in, it makes a difference, so when you’re driving through there, the town feels like it’s vibrant, not like there’s empty buildings and gaps and that kind of thing. If you drive through downtown Kokomo, our occupancy rate is higher than or as high as anybody in the state for a community our size. Our downtown has been, over the years, very well taken care of.”
The Kokomo Plan Commission will vote on approval for the Barko lot development on April 13. If the plans are approved, Pitcher expects construction to be completed by next year.