A look at the large hotel going next to Rock Chalk Park and the restaurant that will come with it
photo by: Journal-World photo/Chad Lawhorn
Hordes of active teenagers next to restaurants is a good money-making strategy. That’s why there was a broad assumption when Sports Pavilion Lawrence opened at Rock Chalk Park in 2014 that restaurants soon would locate near it. Now, nearly four years later, the first restaurant is set to go in next to Rock Chalk Park, but it probably isn’t what you think.
A leader with the new Best Western Plus hotel told me recently that the hotel would have a bar and restaurant when the facility opened in October.
I reported last week that construction work appeared to be entering its final stages for the hotel building that is at the entrance to Rock Chalk Park in northwest Lawrence. Since then, I have gotten an update from Judy Riling, general manager and director of sales for Best Western Plus West Lawrence.
Riling told me the facility would have more of a bar than a restaurant but that it would offer a menu of “bar food” selections. It also will be open to more than just hotel guests, and she does expect to get some business from people who are spending the day at one of Rock Chalk’s many youth tournaments.
“We think it will be a place for parents to escape the action of the Sports Pavilion for just a little bit,” she said.
The addition of a bar and restaurant is one of the reasons the hotel isn’t a standard Best Western but instead carries the designation of Best Western Plus. (Makes sense. I’ve long said a bar is a big plus after watching a weekend’s worth of youth basketball games.)
As for the menu, expect it to be somewhat limited. Riling said the facility wouldn’t have a full kitchen, so the to-be-finalized menu likely will be heavy on items such as chicken wings, chips and salsa, salads and a variety of appetizers. The area also will have three or four flat-screen TVs that should make the bar an attractive place to watch a KU game or other sporting event. Riling thinks some of the residents in the growing single-family neighborhood just to the east of the hotel may take advantage of that offering, since it is one of the only businesses within walking distance of the neighborhood.
“I think having the bar will be a great way to have some of the locals come and visit us,” Riling said.
Best Western, of course, is in the hotel business much more than the bar and restaurant business. Riling is excited about those offerings. Among some of the details she shared:
• When it opens — likely in mid-to-late October — it will be the second largest hotel in Lawrence by room count. It will have 112 rooms, which puts it just behind Lawrence’s DoubleTree Hotel. She said 97 of the 112 rooms would be rooms with two queen beds, which she said is an effort to appeal to the large number of athletic teams that she thinks will use the hotel.
• The hotel will include about 800 square feet of meeting space that can be configured into two small meeting rooms or one large one. She estimated the space could accommodate meetings of up to 100 people.
• Amenities will include an indoor pool and an outdoor patio area with a fire pit and multiple barbecue grills.
Riling wasn’t prepared to say how much rooms will rent for at the new Best Western Plus, noting that rates would vary depending on the season and the demand.
Lawrence is making a big bet on hotels. Three hotel projects have been under construction in the last year. The Country Inn & Suites by Radisson recently opened in eastern Lawrence near 23rd and O’Connell and Lawrence Venture Park, the city’s new industrial park. Tru Hotel by Hilton also is under construction near Free State High School around Sixth and Wakarusa. Its website said it is scheduled to open in September.
Those three projects will add about 280 hotel rooms to the city’s inventory. That’s about a 20 percent jump in available hotel rooms, which Riling said would put some pressure on the industry to bring more events to town, especially on the weekdays when hotel bookings are at their lowest point.
“I think there is some nervousness when you get more hotels in the market, but then you look at all the events at Rock Chalk Park and all the potential events that still could come,” said Riling, who previously worked for the Lawrence convention and visitors bureau to attract events to the city. “There are events out there that can drive business for multiple hotels.”
As for whether we should expect to see some true restaurants locate near Rock Chalk Park anytime soon, it might be worth keeping an eye out. Although some chain restaurants have had a rough go of it recently in Lawrence — think Longhorn Steakhouse and the Sixth Street Applebee’s — I still hear some commercial real estate agents say they think restaurants will be interested in the Rock Chalk Park area.
It hasn’t happened yet, in part, because of infrastructure issues. The lot that Best Western Plus got was one of the few that had easy access to utilities. That should change, however, as Lawrence Memorial Hospital builds an approximately $100 million outpatient medical building near Rock Chalk Park. The LMH facility will be a bit west of the Best Western and south of Rock Chalk Park. The project will improve the situation with utilities and roads, which may make it more financially feasible for businesses like restaurants to locate in the area.