The Kokomo City Council established much of downtown as a cultural district, a step needed if the city wants the district to be officially recognized by the state.

The resolution unanimously approved Monday designates Foster Park and the areas bounded by Washington Street to the west, Monroe Street to the north, Apperson Way to the east and the Kokomo Riverwalk with Union and Main streets to Markland Avenue as the Kokomo Arts & Cultural District. The approval is one more hurdle cleared as the city prepares to file an application to the Indiana Arts Commission to have the district formally recognized by the state.

The designation doesn’t require a financial commitment from the city and doesn’t mandate that the city will receive any money to go toward the district, though it does open funding opportunities in the future and serves as a marketing tool to attract visitors and new residents, Susan Alexander, manager of downtown initiatives for the Greater Kokomo Economic Development Alliance, said.

“Remember, potential visitors are our potential residents,” Alexander told council members. “I really consider our art in our public spaces to be our community’s front windows. ... I truly believe it does help us build population growth here. We attract the creative people, we show our creative people and we attract businesses that way as well.”

The state lists and promotes its cultural districts. That currently includes certain areas of just 10 cities across the state, including Bloomington, Carmel, Madison and Columbus.

The state defines its cultural districts as “well-recognized, labeled, mixed-use areas with unique, authentic art and cultural identity.” It estimates that the state’s 10 cultural districts had a $1.8 billion economic impact via tourism in 2018 and employ more than 17,000 “creative jobs.”

The process to get much of downtown Kokomo recognized as a state cultural district began last year, Alexander said. This year, the downtown association has put together a list of all the assets and different parts within the district needed as part of the application, which will be filed next month.

Alexander said the city and the Greater Kokomo Downtown Association believe the district has enough cultural assets to be recognized by the state. The effort is supported by Kokomo Mayor Tyler Moore and the city. Attaining a cultural district is part of the city’s official 15-year comprehensive plan approved in 2017.

“This district is just thick with cultural assets — trails, sculptures, performing arts opportunities and many others,” Alexander said.

Representatives from the state may visit the district this summer or fall before a final decision is made, which is expected around November.

For Councilman Tom Miklik, R-6th District, focusing and growing the city’s cultural district and chasing the state designation are no-brainer things to do.

“This is a clear attraction for people to come and move into Kokomo, and we want to build the city in by inviting these people in,” he said. “It’s significant when you look at the total quality of life and bringing in new people into the community. This is just one aspect of the total package we’re trying to offer.”
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