Archive for Friday, June 17, 2005

Hotel group seeks city block

Convention center expected to enhance Lawrence’s potential

June 17, 2005


A national hotel developer is negotiating to buy a major chunk of the 600 block of New Hampshire Street to build a hotel designed to attract conventions to downtown.

Officials with Springfield, Mo.-based John Q. Hammons Hotels announced they have entered negotiations to purchase a parking lot owned and used by The World Company, owner of the Journal-World and Sunflower Broadband.

Scott Tarwater, senior vice president with the hotel company, said he was "very encouraged" that the company would complete a deal to buy the property - which stretches from Sixth Street to Seventh Street.

Plans for the property would include an approximately 200-room hotel with 40,000 square feet of meeting space, which would be nearly three times more meeting space than the Lawrence Holidome, the city's largest convention hotel. Tarwater said the combination of a growing university and a strong downtown had made the city an attractive expansion target for the company.

"We've been to Lawrence a number of times and have been very impressed," Tarwater said. "You guys have some momentum there to be really proud of."

Tarwater said the hotel should make the city a larger player in the competitive convention market. He said the facility's meeting space would be able to easily accommodate conventions of 500 to 1,000 people. Current conventions in the city average closer to 200 to 300 people, said Judy Billings, director of the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"We frequently hear from people coming to town for a convention that they would like to be downtown," Billings said. "They would like to have the opportunity to step out on the street and have some lunch and enjoy the character of the city. I think having this downtown ought to be a big plus for us."

Tarwater said the company would like to start construction in 2006 and have the project completed 16 months after work begins. Final plans for the project - price of which Tarwater declined to disclose - haven't been finalized. Any plans must receive approval from city commissioners.

When asked whether he would approach the city about the possibility of a public-private partnership to help subsidize the meeting space, Tarwater said he didn't know yet.

The company used that approach on a recent project in Junction City, where it built a 100-room hotel and 30,000 square feet convention center. In that community, the cost of the convention center is partially paid for using receipts from the city's guest tax.

"I wouldn't close the door on any discussions," said City Commissioner Sue Hack. "I couldn't say anymore than that without knowing the particulars, but I think the whole project sounds pretty exciting. It spells good things for downtown, I think."

But the project likely will not be the only one looking to add more hotel rooms to downtown. Mitchell Chaney, who leads the ownership group of the recently renovated Eldridge Hotel, said his 48-room historic property was strongly considering expansion as well. And he said if the city was open to putting public money toward meeting space, he wanted commissioners to also consider adding convention space as part of a proposed expansion of the public library.

He said his company would be unveiling plans "relatively soon" for a public-private partnership that would address parking needs in the downtown and allow expansion at the Eldridge, which is across the street from the library.

"Our plans are well along," Chaney said. "I doubt that we'll be waiting a lot to see what happens with this other project."

Others in the hotel industry said they thought the Hammons project could be a real boost to the city's convention business.

"It would be very nice to have a big meeting space like that because it could draw some very big crowds to Lawrence," said Ron Desch, general manager at Lawrence's Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites. "I think it will be good for the community, but it could hurt some individual hotels."

Hammons owns 60 hotels in 40 states. Many of its hotels frequently operate under the various Hilton and Marriott hotel brands. Tarwater said the Lawrence hotel would include an upscale, national brand name, but declined to disclose possibilities.

The project also would include some sort of parking structure that would be able to accommodate hotel guests and the needs of The World Company, said Dan Simons, president of the Electronics Division of The World Company.

"It is an impressive project and it would obviously have a huge impact on downtown," Simons said. "I think that is what excites them about it too."

The Hammons company has several properties in the area, including the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Topeka and the Embassy Suites at the Kansas City International Airport.


lunacydetector 12 years, 9 months ago

no lunacy detected here, just my two cents.

wouldn't it be smarter to build a taxpayer supported hotel/convention center on a major street instead of in the downtown area where it is off the beaten track so to speak?

my concern is the lack of driveby traffic to attract hotel customers. it is difficult enough to see where the marriott/springhill suites hotel, or the eldridge hotel is located for out of town visitors. are these hotels full everyday?

would k.u. give enough business to this proposed hotel/convention center since they have their own convention center (the union) as competition? i am assuming these conventions are hoping to draw from the university 2 miles away.

i'm no expert by any means, however i do know location is very important for any business. being off of mass (which isn't traveled much on a daily basis anyway, as compared to the other major streets in town, and less travelled is new hampshire) will be a big hurdle for taxpayer success. after all, didn't the taxpayers foot the bill for the parking garage, that to this day remains fairly empty? its located off the beaten track as well, and i don't see the supposed 300,000 art center visitors per year filling IT up.

...and what would happen if it went out of business. could an argument be made that is good enough, that someone else, not the city, could step in and make it succeed? i wouldn't want it to become like those old hybrid malls - the Tanger Outlet Mall and the Riverfront Outlet Mall - that hold the majority of the retail vacancy in this town, and so far, they haven't been able to turn around - how many years has it been now?. if this big hotel failed, would it hurt any future hotels' chances of building in another area of town? then there is the holiday inn holidome, recently in the news......

Richard Heckler 12 years, 9 months ago

Better their money than ours. Excellent idea and will probaly be good for the Eldridge. Go for it World Company.

BTW LD the Riverfront Plaza is pretty well consumed at this point however both Tanger and the Riverfront are perfect examples of how builders and developers do NOT make good planning decisions....keep them off the planning commission.

lunacydetector 12 years, 9 months ago

merrill, i would think having experts on the planning commission is a much better idea than having people who know absolutely nothing. unfortunately, most of the experts are gone now. as for the riverfront/tanger fiascos, the city commission at that time is to blame as well. they were catering to the anti-mall groups (that now have control).

last time i was in the riverfront mall, there was vast expanse of vacant space downstairs. go for it hammons hotels/eldridge as long as the taxpayers don't have to be the cushion if those things go south.

lunacydetector 12 years, 9 months ago

..but corporate america will be operating the hotel. -those damn capitalists -

as long as they don't raise our taxes to subsidize this business and the downtown. downtown gets subsidized by the taxpayers more than anywhere else in town!

bugmenot 12 years, 9 months ago

This whole downtown development idea makes little sense to me. Those new luxury condos are SOOO expensive. Just click on one of those ads on the right side of this ljworld site. Some are more than $400,000. Who would spend that kind of money on concrete floors and proximity to the bottleneck and last call?

And can downtown really sustain 3 hotels?

The comment from consumer1 seems oxymoronic. What kind of businesses will "draw off the new hotel"? Won't rent and taxes just go up with these new luxury developments? Aren't rent and taxes what are driving local businesses away?

Hmmm. Time will tell.

Katie Van Blaricum 12 years, 9 months ago

Is this new, corporate, hotel going to hurt business at the Eldridge? If so, we should not allow it. We should support local small businesses.

EMB 12 years, 9 months ago

please, stop new buildings downtown before its too late.

blakus 12 years, 9 months ago

I feel that the location of this proposed convention center/hotel will cause more problems than benefits towards the downtown area. Whoever says that traffic is good around the downtown area obviously doesn't walk or bike much. Traffic would be congested at 6th and Mass. where the only access to I-70 within a general distance is available. I am sure the surrounding neighborhoods are not too enthusiastic about this proposal for there is probably going to be parking/traffic issues involved. Sure this project will benefit the local economy because of the number of out-of-towners it could attract, but at what price? Anything we say now about the proposition is pure speculation until the plans are revealed. It will be interesting to see what the developers intend to do.

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