Many local leaders probably weren’t surprised by last week’s news that the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism had scrapped its plans to develop a hotel, resort and conference center at Clinton Lake, west of Lawrence.
As was the case about a decade ago, what seemed like an attractive idea for the lake, apparently didn’t pencil out as a sound business opportunity.
KDWPT Secretary Robin Jennison raised the resort issue anew about a year ago and asked developers to submit proposals for a resort that would be located in Clinton Lake State Park, which is a state park operated on land leased from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A feasibility study prepared for the state included an ambitious wish list for the resort: a 175-room hotel, a conference center with a 6,500-square-foot ballroom and about 9,000 square feet of additional meeting space, three restaurants, a spa, indoor and outdoor pools and other outdoor recreation facilities. Potential developers were asked to designate their own preferred location within the park and address their strategy for extending city water and sewer service to the site.
Jennison is right that Clinton has many potential assets as a resort site: the lake, a nice marina, access from the soon-to-be completed Kansas Highway 10 loop around Lawrence and what he called “a vibrant community” nearby. The resort that he envisioned could be an attractive spot for local residents to go for an evening as well as a good facility for conferences organized by Kansas University and other groups.
Unfortunately, it appears this is an idea whose time has not yet come. The state received only one proposal for a resort — from a developer that hasn’t completed any similar projects. In a letter to Lawrence city officials, Jennison conceded that the state had determined “this project would not/could not be financially feasible for the State of Kansas.”
The state hasn’t shared the details of the proposal, but apparently the developer’s terms included more public investment than the state was willing to provide. That being the case, the state has little option but to walk away. If a resort at Clinton Lake isn’t a good enough deal to be developed primarily with private funds, it isn’t smart to sink taxpayer dollars into the deal.
But never fear, it appears the idea of a Clinton Lake resort will be back, perhaps sooner rather than later. Jennison says he’s still convinced it could work and is considering crafting a new request for proposals that might attract additional developers. We applaud his enthusiasm and look forward to seeing what new plans the future may hold.