The annual shows forced to find new places, close after losing the space of the event center | News
Kokomo is on the verge of losing its biggest event space next year, ending some of the city’s biggest shows and conventions that have drawn tens of thousands of visitors to the county.
The Kokomo Event and Conference Center announced on Facebook in October that it would no longer be hosting large events starting in January. Instead, the 40,000 square foot facility will be used as commercial space.
The building currently houses the SoreMouth Tackle outdoor and sporting goods store; The Outlet Kokomo, a mattress and furniture store; and Simply Tasty, which sells jam, toffees and other foods.
Post manager Tricia Frazier called the move “bittersweet” after her father, Vernon Graves, who owned the business with her and her brother, passed away in January.
“I want to start by saying ‘Thank you Kokomo’ for supporting our local family business,” she wrote in the post. “My family and I have invested a lot of time and energy here to make every event a success over the past 5 1/2 years.”
Frazier said his family has brought new events to Kokomo, as well as revived some older events, and wished all of the older events that praised the facility success as they try to find new event space.
These long-running events that are now looking for new venues or canceling their shows include the Kokomo Gun and Knife Show, Colosseum Combat, the Wild Indiana Outdoor Expo, and Shipshewana On The Road.
KokomoCon had also rented the facility for the past 12 years. Event host Shawn Hilton said it was a blow when he learned earlier this year that they would have to find a new space.
“It was a disappointment,” he said. “We had such a great relationship there, and the facility itself was absolutely perfect for what we’re doing. There is nothing as big as this, which is as central as this, and also covers the chairs, the tables, the nine meters.
Now the local comic book convention that is said to draw up to 1,500 out-of-town visitors each year is drastically downsizing. Hilton said they were renting the 2,000-square-foot space at the Baymont Inn and Suites in March to host a much smaller event.
“Personally, I really wish they had kept it,” he said of the Kokomo Event Center. “I would have continued to hold conventions there until my death. But for them I can see it’s a lot of work, a lot of money and a lot of time and a lot of headache. So no hard feelings.
However, Hilton said, he’s sure the city is poised to feel the economic impact and see a drop in local innkeeper tax revenue after losing the only facility large enough to host major events in Kokomo.
Sherry Matlock, director of the Grand Kokomo Visitors Bureau, said the loss of the event facility “will definitely have an impact on the community.”
She said the office had previously worked with an organizer of a large annual event to find other locations.
“The Greater Kokomo Visitors Bureau is happy to assist event and meeting planners with alternative options, as we regularly assist those looking to find venues in the Kokomo area to host trade shows, events, meetings, etc., ”Matlock said in an email.
But alternative venues that can host major events are scarce in the county. Hilton said the only place he knows about is some of the buildings at the Howard County Fairgrounds in Greentown.
This has led some organizers to consider the completion of the long-awaited downtown hotel and conference center to bring their events back to the city.
The original developer of the project, Dora Hotel Company, is back at the table after the project has gone through two other developers. More recently, the pandemic has thrown obstacles in the development of the project, which was first announced in 2018.
Howard County Commissioner Paul Wyman said officials are in talks with the preferred developer on the project, but no details are available on the schedule for the start of work.
However, with the news regarding the Kokomo Event and Conference Center, officials have new motivation to keep pushing the project forward, he said.
“Anytime you see something like that happen, it makes you pause,” Wyman said. “But it also forces us to focus on continuing to do things in our community to attract people, and this hotel and conference center is at the top of that list.”
Even when the project is finished, it still won’t be as big as the event center.
Matlock said the proposed downtown conference center measures around 13,000 square feet, but that could be changed. This number includes both a main ballroom and an additional meeting room in several smaller rooms.
According to a READI state grant proposal submitted by the city and county, the conference center could measure up to 44,000 square feet, but that includes housing for the Kokomo Automobile Museum.
Wyman said he believes the downtown convention center will be able to host most of the events that have been held at the Kokomo Event Center, while also attracting new ones that require a hotel to be near or attached to the conference space.
But until it opens, major events that have given the city an economic boost will have to wait or leave Kokomo.
In addition to losing events, the city and county will no longer be able to use the facility for vaccination or testing clinics during the pandemic. It will also no longer serve as a temporary triage point during natural disasters, as it did during the 2016 tornado.
Wyman said the facility would be removed from the county’s disaster plan, but other locations already listed in the plan would be sufficient to meet all disaster needs.
The building was owned by the Howard County Automotive Heritage Museum & Civic Center until 2011, when it was transferred to the Howard County Council of Commissioners. They in turn ceded it to Ivy Tech Kokomo.
In 2016, Kokomoecc LLC, operated by Vernon Graves, Vernon Jr. and Tricia Graves Frazier, purchased the facility from Ivy Tech.