Downtown hotel, conference center project reliant on rebound of hospitality industry

Tyler Juranovich, Kokomo Tribune, Ind.
·2 min read

Feb. 23—Downtown Kokomo will not likely see the development of a hotel and conference center in the block between Main and Union streets, just north of the Wildcat Creek, until the hospitality sector rebounds from revenue losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That was the message Charlie Sparks, president and CEO of the Greater Kokomo Economic Development Alliance, told Howard County Conventions, Visitors and Tourism Commission (CVB) board members Tuesday.

"I think we would all assume a new hotel is not imminent when the market is impacted the way it has been by the effects of the pandemic," he said.

Talks, though, with an unnamed hotel developer are still ongoing, according to Sparks, who added that the developer is one who has developed hotels in the past and is still on board to bring the project to fruition "when the time is right."

When that will be exactly is anyone's guess as the pandemic is still negatively affecting travel, especially business travel, and large-scale events that convention centers would typically host.

The hospitality industry has been one of the hardest hit industries since the onset of the COVID pandemic, the effects of which have also been felt locally.

The county's occupancy rates for local hotels fell 20-22% in 2020 compared to 2019, according to numbers presented Tuesday by Sherry Matlock, manager of the CVB.

While down, the county's decrease in occupancy rate was lower than the statewide occupancy rate decrease of 32%.

"I think that's encouraging," Matlock said. "We don't have quite the deficit to recover as other destinations have. So while we're still recovering — and that recovery may take a year or two or more to fully recover to where we were in 2019 — we're not starting near the low as other communities in Indiana."

Before the downtown hotel and conference center project was first announced in July 2018 under former Mayor Greg Goodnight"s administration, it was long considered to be the worst kept secret in the county.

But it has stumbled ever since it was let out of the bag. Since it's unveiling, the project has gone through three developers — Dora Hospitality, MWA Kokomo LLC and Envoy.

Despite the setbacks, the project continues to have the support of the Alliance and the city.

When reached for comment, Kokomo Mayor Tyler Moore echoed much of Sparks' comments. Moore said he hopes the recent investments of Stellantis and the opening of Championship Park will "provide additional encouragement for the developer to commit."

"We're remaining optimistic that our recent conversations with this trusted developer will be successful, yet we continue to rely upon the recovery of the hospitality industry to help get us back to a more active plan," Moore said in an email Tuesday.

Tyler Juranovich can be reached at 765-454-8577, by email at tyler.juranovich@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at @tylerjuranovich