Jim Peters is excited about the possibilities at 12th Sreet and Oread Avenue.
As director of professional programs for Kansas University Continuing Education, Peters is in charge of helping KU departments bring workshops and conferences to campus. That means securing hotel rooms and meeting space — both of which have, at times, been a challenge in Lawrence.
That means many conferences end up in Kansas City or elsewhere. But that may soon change.
The Oread Inn, a 108-room facility that could accommodate conventions of up to 350, is under construction and scheduled to open early next year. Peters likes what he sees.
“I have no doubt it’s going to be helpful,” he said. “We’ll be able to draw more conferences to campus because of this.”
Nancy Longhurst, who will manage the Oread Inn and also manages the Eldridge Hotel, 701 Mass., said construction is on schedule for the new facility. She expects it to open around February 2010.
In addition to the room and meeting space, amenities will include:
• A restaurant that will serve “continental” fare from western Europe.
• A spa that will be open to the public.
• A Jimmy John’s sandwich shop.
• A retailer that has yet to be announced.
• 200 underground parking spaces.
• Outdoor terrace areas that will offer a view of campus and Lawrence.
• A club/bar.
Rachel Herring, marketing manager for the Oread, said the goal is to balance the needs of hotel guests and conventions with amenities for Lawrence residents. For instance, she hopes the spa and food options will be a draw for locals, and she thinks the bar will be good both for KU students who want to dance at night and for tailgaters before games.
“We want the Oread to be part of the community,” she said.
The $37 million project hasn’t been without its roadbumps.
First, there were the tax issues — the city will allow an extra 1 percent sales tax at the Oread to pay for street-related infrastructure improvements in the area. The development group, which includes Lawrence businessmen Thomas Fritzel, Tim Fritzel and Todd Sutherland, said the project wasn’t financially feasible without the tax.
Then, there was controversy over how the seven-story structure might affect the Lawrence and KU skyline.
Then, after construction began, a vandal or vandals opened a fire hydrant near the site multiple times, flooding the basement that had been dug and causing tens of thousands of dollars in damage.
Still, despite the challenges and the sluggish economy, Longhurst said she’s confident the timing of the project is good.
“I think we’re really lucky that right now all of this is happening,” she said of the timing of the bad economy in relation to the construction timeline. “A year from now, I feel we’ll be in a much better place.”
‘A leg up’
Peters, of KU Continuing Education, said he’s often restricted by the number of hotel rooms in town when it comes to attracting conventions, conferences and workshops.
With many campus entities wanting to hold their events in the Kansas Union — both because it’s on campus and because it has large meeting facilities — he thinks having a number of hotel rooms within walking distance of the union will be an advantage.
Some KU-related conferences want to be in Kansas City for other reasons, Peters said. But for those who are simply restricted by size, this will help.
“This is going to give KU a leg up,” he said.
He said in March that he was working to attact a national conference to KU in 2011 that would require hotel rooms for several hundred people. Organizers still will need to spread their attendees over several hotels to hold the conference here.
“People are pretty accommodating,” he said. “People want to come to Lawrence for all the good reasons.”
Judy Billings, director of the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau, said she agrees The Oread Inn will open up new possibilities for the city.
“I think it does present a new choice of properties, which is great,” Billings said. “It should bring some new business in — business that is connected in with the university, more than likely.”
But she said there may be a down side for other hotels in town, at least initially.
“Any time any kind of new property is built in a community, it does impact other properties,” she said.
But Oread Inn managers say they’re confident they are going after business that wouldn’t have been in Lawrence otherwise.
Herring, the marketing manager, said some statewide associations want to hold their meetings in northeastern Kansas but don’t want to go all the way to Kansas City. Other times, she said, KU alumni want to bring their association or business meetings back to their alma mater. She said several conferences already have been booked for the yet-to-be-completed facility.
“We’re starting to reach out to the university and state associations,” Longhurst added. “I think the university will be a big part of it.”
And if there are advantages for the Lawrence community, she said, it’ll be all the better.
“We want students to come in,” Longhurst said. “We want everybody who walks in to feel good about it.”