A proposal to build a hotel atop Mount Oread is winning approval from both neighbors and Kansas University leaders, but soon it will face key votes inside City Hall.
"This is a pretty good example of how the neighbors don't complain about everything, if it is fair and takes into account our needs, like parking and design," said Candice Davis, a member of the Oread Neighborhood Association.
Both neighborhood and KU leaders have expressed support for the project - once dubbed Eldridge on the Hill but now tentatively called The Oread Inn. The project - proposed by a development team led by members of the Fritzel family - would include 74 upscale hotel rooms and a mix of condominiums as part of a seven-story building at 12th Street and Oread Avenue.
The 0.75-acre site has been the longtime home of Yello Sub, the college bar The Crossing, a burrito shop, a bookstore, a four-plex rental unit at 1142 Ind. and a nine-plex apartment building at 1140 Ind. All the buildings would be demolished to make way for the project.
That is, if city leaders approve the proposal.
The city's Historic Resources Commission is scheduled to debate the plans at its meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at City Hall. The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission is then scheduled to review the plan for the project at its 6:30 p.m. meeting Monday, also at City Hall. City commissioners ultimately will decide whether to give the project final approval.
The city's planning staff previously has recommended that the project be denied because the size of the building is too large to fit the historic character of the neighborhood. But historic resources commissioners were unable to reach consensus on the project when they met in August. Now city planners are saying they need until October to issue a recommendation on the project because of its size and complexity.
But the size issue hasn't been a deal-killer for the neighborhood. Davis - who in addition to being part of the neighborhood association also is part of a subcommittee formed by the association to review the project - said there's no question the building is tall. But she said the designers have worked hard to make the building "architecturally interesting." Plus, she said, some neighbors think a hotel - which will have most of its parking in an underground garage - will be a more neighborhood-friendly use.
"Right now, we have a bar there," Davis said.
KU leaders also are touting the project as a better use for the corner. KU Provost Richard Lariviere and Kevin Corbett, president of the KU Alumni Association, both have written letters of support for the project.
Lariviere calls the project "extremely desirable" because it would provide a needed venue close to campus to host visitors, faculty recruits and university donors.
Corbett wrote that he also likes the non-hotel portions of the development. The hotel is planned to occupy the first five floors of the building, while the top two floors would house a mix of condominiums and extended-stay suites. He said the condos on the edge of campus likely would attract alumni members to return to Lawrence to live.
Developers think the new hotel would help the city become more of a major player for state and regional conferences, as well.
"We're seeing a tremendous amount of leakage in terms of meeting business, especially to Overland Park," said Nancy Longhurst, general manager of the Eldridge Hotel downtown. Longhurst is part of the development team because owners of the Eldridge are among those proposing the new Mount Oread hotel.
The proposed hotel would have 6,000 to 8,000 square feet of meeting space, but would be within walking distance of the large banquet rooms at the Kansas Union.
Developers are saying they're confident that the project will fit in well with the neighborhood. The development team recently released a photo illustration showing how the KU skyline would look from Massachusetts Street, if the project were built. The illustration shows Fraser Hall would continue to be the dominant structure in the skyline.
"There isn't anybody who thinks it is not going to be seen," said Paul Werner, one of the architects on the project. "But the worry was that it would be imposing, and we certainly don't think it will be."
But Lynne Braddock Zollner, the city planner reviewing the project, previously has said the building would significantly change the skyline. She said it would be visible from both Interstate 70 and Kansas Highway 10.