Hotel and restaurant development planned for far eastern edge of Lawrence

Courtesy: City of Lawrence

There were certainly days when I could have used a hotel room after dining at Don’s Steakhouse in eastern Lawrence. (A double order of twice-baked potatoes is a good recipe for a nap in the parking lot.) Well, the timing is a bit off, but plans are in the works for a new hotel — and possibly a restaurant — at the 23rd Street location that formerly housed Don’s Steakhouse.

A development group led by area businessman Mark Gwaltney wants to build an 89-room extended stay hotel on the property that housed Don’s Steakhouse and also on the property that formerly housed Diamond Everley Roofing’s shop facility. Gwaltney is an owner with Diamond-Everley. Gwaltney moved the roofing company’s operations to a site in Perry a couple of years ago, and the 23rd Street property has been fairly underutilized ever since. Don’s Steakhouse, of course, has been closed for a number of years, and the property has generally deteriorated in that time. In case you have forgotten, the site is just a bit west of 23rd and O’Connell on the north side of 23rd Street.

I don’t have word yet on the particular brand of hotel that is planned for the site, but documents submitted to the city indicate that Gwaltney’s group is working with Intercontinental Hotels Group, which is one of the giant worldwide hotel companies. The company operates a number of different brands, such as large upscale hotel chains like Crowne Plaza and smaller boutiques like Hotel Indigo.

The information provided to the city says the hotel will be an extended stay type of facility. That may make it more likely that it would be one of the IHG’s other brands, which include Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, StayBridge Suites and Candlewood Suites. Lawrence already has a Holiday Inn Express, but it recently lost its Holiday Inn brand (if you remember, the property is being converted to a DoubleTree by Hilton) and it does not have a StayBridge or a Candlewood. Both Candlewood and StayBridge specifically market themselves as extended stay hotels, so those may be ones to keep an eye on.

The deal for the new hotel is not yet done. Gwaltney’s group — a company called Cave Inn LLC — is seeking to buy some city-owned property to make the project feasible. The Don’s Steakhouse and Diamond Everley sites both are adjacent to the city’s new business park, Lawrence Venture Park. The group is seeking to buy 63,000 square feet of property from the business park to better accommodate the design of the project. The group is proposing to pay just less than $75,000 for the property, which is consistent with other sales the city has made.

Staff members are recommending approval of the sale. They note that the project isn’t seeking any city incentives, such as tax breaks. City commissioners will consider approving the sale at their 5:45 p.m. meeting on Tuesday at City Hall. City officials want to be careful about selling off property in VenturePark for nonbusiness park uses. But city staff members say this particular piece of property is not likely to be highly sought after by businesses because it is not yet directly connected to one of the business park’s new streets. The city has sold some VenturePark property previously for nonbusiness park uses. The city in late 2014 sold a small section just west of this site for an existing office building that needed additional parking. That group paid $1.19 per square foot for the property, which is the same rate the city is using for this proposed sale.

Gwaltney’s group has shared a concept development plan with the city. You can see a tentative rendering of the hotel below. The plans also show that a portion of the site would be reserved for a future development that could include a freestanding restaurant building. No word on what that may be.

The Don’s Steakhouse site and the adjacent Diamond Everley location have been candidates for redevelopment for quite some time. A hotel, though, may catch some people by surprise. The hotel will be the most eastern hotel in the city, and Gwaltney said in his letter to the city that was desirable. He believes there are business travelers who would rather be on the east side of the city because of the presence of Kansas City.

Surely the development also is betting on increased business activity in adjacent VenturePark, which could drive some hotel stays. Thus far the park doesn’t have a tenant. Menards has announced plans to build a warehouse and manufacturing facility at the park, but that project hasn’t broken ground. We’ve reported it has been put on hold by Menards, and it is uncertain when it will get started.

It will be interesting to see if this is the catalyst that spurs more development at the site. The former Knights of Columbus building that is just east of the proposed hotel site has been on the market. The sign is now down. The county’s records still show the Knights of Columbus association owning the property. I’m not sure how actively the association is marketing the property currently, but it is a big piece of property that is fairly underutilized.

The city also may eventually change the landscape out there. At some point the city is likely to begin discussions about a new police headquarters building. City Manager Tom Markus has expressed his opinion that it ought to be built on property the city already owns. VenturePark, along with a city-owned site behind the Wal-Mart near Sixth and Wakarusa, have been the leading candidates in the past.

I’ve got a call in to Gwaltney to find out more details about the project. I’ll let you know when I learn more.

In other news and notes from around town:

• This isn’t news so much as a public service reminder. Today is Aug. 1, which means lots of students are moving back into apartments after having gone home for the summer. Watch out for drivers learning their way around town.

I don’t know if the influx of new residents in town caused this, but somebody was trying to sell something on Massachusetts Street that I had never seen before. I was in a barbershop this morning and an unknown fellow popped his head in the door and inquired if any of us wanted to buy some chicken. We believe it was a bag of frozen chicken — we didn’t hear clucking anyway — but we were all too hesitant to ask for a peek inside the sack.

Anyway, expect the town to get livelier.