Eldridge Hotel proposes major expansion; Lawrence lands on startup list; family fun center update

Rendering for the proposed expansion of The Eldridge Hotel. Courtesy: City of Lawrence/Paul Werner Architects

Somewhere, the Missouri knickers of William Quantrill must be in quite a bunch right now. More than 150 years after Quantrill burned it to the ground, the venerable Eldridge Hotel in downtown Lawrence has filed plans for a major expansion.

The hotel’s Lawrence-based ownership group has filed plans to expand into the vacant lot directly south of the hotel at Seventh and Massachusetts streets. Plans call for 38 new rooms/suites to be built as part of the six-story expansion. That will almost double the amount of rooms the hotel can offer. Currently, The Eldridge has 48 rooms.

Lawrence-based architect Paul Werner tells me that most of the new rooms will be equipped with two queen beds. Currently, The Eldridge is an all suite hotel, which can make it more difficult for the hotel to book sports teams, which are expected to become a bigger part of the Lawrence hotel market.

“Teams are already trying to book rooms for upcoming events at Rock Chalk Park,” Werner said via e-mail.

The expansion also will include a much larger ground-floor restaurant space, larger kitchen, new meeting and reception facilities, and a banquet hall that will be twice the size of the existing ballroom.

Renderings, which you can see below, show the expansion being approximately the same height as the existing Eldridge building. The plans also show what looks to be a fairly large balcony area about two stories up that will serve as a place for people to gather and overlook bustling Massachusetts Street.

If some of this sounds familiar to you, it might be because you are remembering plans filed back in 2010. The hotel group — which is led by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel — filed plans back then to expand onto the vacant lot. Then the economy slowed down (I think the technical term is it went in the toilet), and the expansion never got built. It appears this expansion is a larger one. My article from 2010 had that expansion only adding about 16 rooms to the hotel.

The 2010 expansion had some neat features, though, including a retractable roof over a portion of the dining/reception area. Werner, though, tells me that the idea isn’t included in this version, mainly because the hotel decided it needed to increase the number of rooms in the expansion project.

The expansion plans certainly continue a multiyear trend to add more hotel space in Lawrence. Fritzel’s group built The Oread near the Kansas University campus, and work currently is underway on a multistory Marriott hotel at Ninth and New Hampshire streets. And the city and KU are in discussions that could dwarf both of those projects. They are in the process of hiring a consultant to study the feasibility of building a conference center — either downtown or elsewhere — which would include hotel space. That follows up on a broader trend of smaller cities adding convention or conference center space. Manhattan created such a center in recent years, which really got the attention of some Lawrence movers and shakers. But the nearby project that may be worth watching now is a new 10-story, 200-room conference center that is being built at Ridgeview Road and Kansas Highway 10, which technically is in Olathe and is about a 30-minute drive from downtown Lawrence.

What will be interesting to watch is whether The Eldridge expansion seeks any city incentives, such as tax increment financing, a special sales tax with a transportation development district, or other such mechanisms. Both The Oread and the Marriott project have received such incentives, and any conference center project likely would have a large city incentive package. This project may not be as large as those, but it certainly will be prominent. It will be one of the more significant pieces of new construction on Massachusetts Street in several years.

Werner said he hopes construction can begin in the next several months.

In other news and notes from around town:

• Maybe the early bird doesn’t get the worm anymore. Or maybe Lawrence just doesn’t have an appetite for worms. Yesterday Lawrence landed on a national list as one of the top places for sleeping in and getting your workday started late. But now I’ve gotten word that Lawrence has landed on another national list that is a bit more business-friendly: The city has been ranked the fifth fastest-growing emerging startup hub in the U.S. That is a lot of modifiers there, but I believe it means that among small cities, Lawrence is a standout for startup businesses.

But before you go out and celebrate by building your own hotel, it should be mentioned that this study doesn’t come from the likes of the Wall Street Journal or Forbes or such. It comes from SpareFoot, which is a company that helps people find self-storage units. Whew, that’s a relief. I thought we may have landed on the list because of our infamous article about a guy who kept an actual foot in a bucket on his porch. (By the way, if you are a startup company considering Lawrence, there is no need to click on that link. Really, please don’t.)

The folks at SpareFoot, however, did have a methodology for determining the top emerging startup hubs, and Lawrence did well. It included: having a population less than 1 million people; a population growth rate of more than 1 percent in 2012, and a top 20 ranking in the Martin Prosperity Institute index that ranks per capita venture capital funding.

When you put all those together — Lawrence had a 1.1 percent population growth rate and ranks No. 6 in the country for per capita venture capital with $40.8 million per 100,000 residents — we’re the fifth best emerging startup hub.

We were just ahead of Madison, Wis., but trailed the No. 1 city . . . Provo, Utah, which is home to Brigham Young University. It also is the Polyglot Capital of the World, and, no, I won’t get fired for saying that. Polyglot means knowing several languages, and Provo officials claim more languages are spoken in Provo than any other city in the world. That’s thanks to the Mormon Church’s worldwide mission program.

Two other cities in the region also made the list: Fort Collins, Colo., at No 2 and Boulder, Colo., at No. 3. But I’m sure Lawrence could catapult those communities, if we could just come up with some sort of Poly Capital of the World type of designation. Perhaps the Polysnoozhoopus Capital of the World, which of course means we have the most number of excuses for coming into work late because we we stayed up watching basketball.

I’m sure there is a list for that, and we’ll soon be on it.

• It seems unlikely that we are going to land on any list from the go-kart lovers of America. (It is a more innocent group than it sounds.) If you remember, a proposal for a family fun center near Clinton Parkway and Inverness Drive in west Lawrence includes plans for an electric go-kart track, a putt-putt golf course, batting cages and indoor clubhouse. You also may remember that neighbors and some nearby schools in the area have come out strongly against the proposed development. Well, that project has another hearing tonight.

Planning commissioners will consider a host of approvals for the site. The city’s planning staff is recommending approval of the project, with several conditions. But neighbors have flooded the planning office with letters and petitions against the project, with concerns ranging from traffic generated by the project to noise and light generated by all the outdoor activities.

The development group, which hasn’t been publicly identified but is being represented by Lawrence architect Paul Werner, has made some changes to the project since it was last considered. They include eliminating the idea of a 3.2 beer bar on the upper level of the clubhouse, and moving the batting cages farther from single-family residential structures. As for the go-karts, the developers continue to emphasize that the go-karts would be electric and are expected to make no more noise than a car driving down the road at 20 to 30 miles per hour.

We’ll see how it goes tonight. Regardless of what happens at the Planning Commission, the project will still need approval from the City Commission before it could move forward.

The Planning Commission meets at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall.

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