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Posts tagged with Alvamar

Details on proposed changes to west Lawrence’s Alvamar golf and country club; speculation about restaurant tenant for Marriott; Wheat State Pizza allowed to reopen after tax dispute

Here’s the surest sign that word of proposed changes to the Alvamar golf courses is starting to make its way around town: I caught my insurance agent trying to steal my golf clubs. Yes, a big part of the proposed revamping of Alvamar is to add more homes along the course, and with my hook, slice and my proclivity to confuse the golf cart’s accelerator and brake, that can ruin even the most financially sound of insurance companies.

If you remember, Bliss Sports — the Thomas Fritzel-led group that also was the key private partner at Rock Chalk Park — has tentatively agreed to purchase the Alvamar Golf & Country club in west Lawrence. I recently chatted with Lawrence architect Paul Werner, who is serving as the designer for Bliss. Werner has met with club members and residents who live near the course. He said he is assuring them of two things:

“There are 36 holes of golf today and there will be 36 holes of golf tomorrow,” Werner said. “And if you live on the golf course today, you will live on the golf course tomorrow.”

Werner said the development group hasn’t had any serious discussions about eliminating nine or 18 holes of golf at the complex. Instead, the group has focused on moving some fairways and even a few greens to create larger areas around the course to accommodate more residential development.

Werner said he cannot yet put a number on how many new living units would be created around the course, but he’s telling people to expect a variety of housing types. Those included traditional single-family homes, patio homes, condos, and probably some apartments, as well. One area of the course is designated to accommodate several cabins that could house larger groups of overnight visitors to the course. (Just for the record, it takes me a long time to play a round of golf, but it has been very rare that I’ve had to spend the night to finish a round.)

A rendering of proposed development near Alvamar golf and country club.

A rendering of proposed development near Alvamar golf and country club. by Chad Lawhorn

In terms of more details about the proposed changes, see the photo above of a possible site layout that was shared at the members meeting. Here’s some additional details:

— The greens for No. 9 and No. 18 on the public side of the course are scheduled to move, and the group is still studying the possibility of moving the green for No. 17.

— Plans call for the fairways on holes No. 10 on both the public and private side of the courses to move, and the fairway for No. 1 on the public side also likely would be re-arranged.

— New homes would be added between the fairways of No. 1 and No. 9 on the public course, meaning that No. 1 would have homes on both sides of the fairway. New residential units also are planned for both sides of the portion of Crossgate Drive that runs north of the clubhouse area of the complex. Plans call for the No. 10 fairways on both the public and private side to be moved and the driving range to be narrowed to accommodate the housing. Werner said the group also is considering developing a new housing area near where the 17th green of the public side is today. Those homes would be on the north side of Quail Creek Drive, but Werner said that portion of the plan is less definite than the other proposed residential areas.

— The plans show about a dozen cabins or more would be built near the No. 9 green on the public side of the course. Such cabins have become popular at some golf clubs across the country, with Werner pointing to the Flint Hills National Golf Club near Wichita as an example.

– The public side clubhouse — the smaller structure with a pro shop, snack bar and deck that overlooks the practice putting green — would be torn down fairly early in the process, Werner said. In that general area, the group would build a banquet hall and a large pond that would help serve some of the irrigation needs of the course. (The pond is one of several called for on the plans, but I’ll have to get more details about those later.) The banquet hall could seat up to 800 people. Certainly the facility would be able to accommodate large weddings and other such social events. Whether it would try to accommodate conferences and small scale conventions remains to be seen. The project currently does not have a hotel proposed for anywhere on the site, but Werner told me the group is open to looking at that possibility in the future.

– Drawings show a large indoor/outdoor tennis center just south of the parking lot for Alvamar. It would be on the west side of Crossgate and would take advantage of some of the re-arranging of the holes and fairways. As envisioned, the facility would be a joint complex that would be shared by members and the Kansas University tennis team, Werner said. But he said the tennis center idea is still in the early stages of discussions with KU officials. KU currently owns an indoor/outdoor tennis center at 5200 Clinton Parkway in west Lawrence.

– Plans call for a new swimming pool to be built near where the cart barn facility is located today.

– Discussions with KU are underway to expand KU’s existing practice facility at Alvamar, Werner said.

Werner said he didn’t have a definitive timeline for the project to proceed, but said he expected work to begin at some point in 2015. Alvamar officials previously have said they expect the sale of the club to Bliss Sports to be finalized by April. Currently, the company is going through a due diligence period, which includes winning approvals for the proposed changes to the course.

Werner said Bliss has not yet submitted any plans to City Hall for the necessary land use approvals. He said the development group, however, has started talking with city planners to get a better understanding of what approvals will be needed.

Werner said the development group is not anticipating asking for a large incentives package from the city to move the project forward. He said the group may seek an exemption on paying sales taxes for construction materials, which is an exemption the city has given other projects by issuing industrial revenue bonds. Werner said more significant incentives such as tax increment financing or a transportation development district aren’t being considered at this time.

Werner said this development clearly will be a much more private development than the public-private partnership that was used to develop Rock Chalk Park. He said the driving force behind this development is to create more residential living around the course, which in turn should create more members for the country club.

“More residents out there will make it healthier,” Werner said.

He said there also is the possibility that the country club could become more an attraction for out-of-town visitors. He said the development group is in early discussions about creating a Kansas golf hall of fame that would be located at the club.

“I don’t think there is any doubt that the courses can be a great destination,” Werner said. “Maybe you have a group come in for a KU game, and they stay in one of the cabins for a few days longer to play some golf.

In other news and notes from around town:

Back in June we reported that the hip Kansas City-based Mexican restaurant Port Fonda was seriously looking for a location in Lawrence. Well, those rumors have heated up again, and now the word on the street is that it may well be the tenant that takes the restaurant space in the new Marriott hotel that will open at Ninth and New Hampshire streets in early 2015.

I checked in with Jamie Davila, a co-owner of Port Fonda, and he said he didn’t yet have any announcements to make, but said he thought one would be forthcoming soon.

“We’re still very interested in Lawrence,” he said.

So, take the Marriott rumor for whatever you think it is worth, but it looks like something to keep an eye on.

For those of you not familiar with Port Fonda, it has become a favorite for some of the Westport crowd. Patrick Ryan, the other co-owner of the business, started in a food truck in Kansas City and then transitioned to a full-scale restaurant about two years ago.

• We reported last week that agents with the Kansas Department of Revenue locked the doors of Wheat State Pizza near 23rd and Louisiana due to about $42,000 in unpaid taxes. Well, the restaurant is back open. A spokeswoman with the Department of Revenue confirmed that Wheat State Pizza had reached “an acceptable payment option with the state” that allowed the restaurant to reopen on Friday.

Reply 3 comments from David Holroyd Carol Bowen Richard Andrade

Alvamar reaches deal to sell course and club to group led by Rock Chalk Park developers; city to add larger snow plows for winter

Changes appear to be on the way for Alvamar golf and country club. As we previously reported, the board has been considering selling the course, and now we have confirmation that a deal has been struck to sell the business to the same group that has partnered with the city and KU to build the Rock Chalk Park sports complex.

Bob Johnson, chair of the Alvamar board told me a deal has been struck with Bliss Sports, the group led by longtime Lawrence builder Thomas Fritzel. Johnson said both sides are conducting their due diligence, and he expects the deal to be finalized in March or April. (Due diligence on a golf course can take time. Mine usually involves whether I can safely hit back onto the fairway from this lush stand of Berber carpet, or whether I’m going to have to break another window to do so. These guys may be talking about a more financial-oriented due diligence, although I can tell you windows aren’t cheap.)

This deal shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to folks who have been following the situation. We reported in September that there was a lot of speculation that a group led by Fritzel was seeking to buy the West Lawrence course. What most people watching the situation want to know is whether Fritzel has plans to keep all 36 holes of golf that currently exist at Alvamar, or whether one of the courses may be redeveloped into housing or other uses.

I’ve reached out to Fritzel, but have had no luck in talking with him. Johnson, though, said the board is operating under the assumption that all 36 holes of golf will remain.

“Obviously, it is the buyer’s decision,” Johnson said. “But we have heard nothing to believe that the golf course will be anything other than what it is now. If I were to predict, I would say the chances are overwhelming that it will be a 36-hole facility.”

But Johnson said he is aware that there is significant speculation that one of the courses will be removed to make way for more housing or other development.

“It makes a really good rumor,” Johnson said. “I know it would upset people. That is probably why it is such a good rumor.”

What does seem to be a likelihood is that Kansas University’s golf program will continue to have a home at the golf course. If I were a betting man (and I would be, if windows didn’t cost so much) I would bet that KU’s presence at Alvamar grows. Fritzel formed Bliss Sports, in part, to create new facilities for KU at Rock Chalk Park. Bliss owns the facilities but KU rents them. Plans certainly have been in the works to expand KU’s indoor practice facility at Alvamar. KU’s website list plans to make the facility nearly five times larger by adding team lounges, locker rooms, offices, training rooms and an indoor chipping and putting area.

Johnson said he’s excited about the future of Alvamar. He said the shareholders of Alvamar have had discussions in the past about selling to out-of-town golf course companies.

“For the community of Lawrence and the golfing community, it probably is the best thing that could happen,” Johnson said. “These buyers are people who have been in this community their whole lives and their futures are in this community.”

The deal includes about 300 acres that comprise the golf course and country club grounds, Johnson said. He said there likely are pockets within that 300 acres that are suitable for infill development. But he said the deal does not include any of the large amounts of raw, develop-able West Lawrence ground that is owned by Alvamar Inc.

It will be interesting to watch how Alvamar does change in the future. The courses and country club are a West Lawrence institution. Famed Lawrence businessman Bob Billings founded the course with business partner Mel Anderson in 1968. A second course was added in 1970. Today, Alvamar is one of only two 36-hole golf facilities in the state, according to Alvamar’s website. The courses also are a bit historic in the world of golf. The 1968 course, according to Alvamar’s website, was the first golf course in the world constructed with zoysia grass fairways. As for the country club, the members' clubhouse was built in 1984 by local builder Gene Fritzel, who is Thomas’ father.

As I have said many times on the golf course, things have a way of coming full circle (although usually I’m just talking about my nasty hook.)

In other news and notes from around town:

• When the snow starts falling, the Batmobile will not be plowing the streets of Lawrence, but do expect to see some winged vehicles tackling the job.

For the first time, the city’s Public Works Department will equip four of the department’s snow-plowing trucks with a device called a “wing plow.” The plow is mounted on the side of the truck and extends about eight feet. City officials are optimistic that the new piece of equipment will allow major roads like Iowa, Sixth and 23rd streets to be plowed more quickly.

“We think it will speed up the process by about a third,” said Mike Perkins, the street division supervisor for the city.

Larger cities have been using the wing plows for awhile, said Mark Thiel, the city’s assistant director of public works.

“We’re probably one of the smaller cities that are using them,” Thiel said. “We’re just trying to stay ahead of the game. It is another tool for us.”

Perkins said the new wing plows will make it more important than ever for the city to follow the advice of not passing a snow plow. The trucks will be equipped with special lights to draw attention to the fact that a blade is hanging off the side of the truck, but motorists will need to use care.

“It is a clear, clean path right behind the truck,” Perkins said. “That is the best place to drive.”

Crews earlier this month did mock snow-plow runs throughout the city to prepare for the upcoming snow season. Thiel said in addition to the wing plows, the city has made changes to increase the amount of salt the city can store. The city now has the capability to store about 10,000 tons of salt, which is about twice the amount the city would expect to use during a season. The extra capacity could become crucial in the future, Thiel said.

“That is a huge benefit to us because we don’t have to worry about re-ordering in midseason,” Thiel said. “Sometimes there can be a four to six week lead time for salt orders.”

Thiel also recently provided city commissioners with his best estimate on what type of winter we’ll have this year. He said the city looks at forecasts from the National Weather Service, the Farmers Almanac and a private subscription weather service. The forecasts are mixed this year, with the National Weather Service predicting a largely normal winter, while the subscription service is predicting below-average temperatures but about average snowfall totals. The Farmers Almanac is calling for “bitter and snowy” conditions in Kansas.

“I think we’re pretty much going to have a repeat of what we had last year,” Thiel said. “I think we’re going to have a lot of cold weather early and a lot of small events early.”

Thiel said he thinks the chances of major snow — six inches or more — will increase significantly in January and February.

That won’t be good news for the city budget. The last snow season was a fairly expensive one for the city. Thiel said the city spent about $1 million clearing snow in the 2013/2014 season. That was about twice the amount spent in 2012/2013, even though snow totals for the two seasons checked in at about 30 inches. The big difference is that in 2013/2014 there were 13 snow or ice events the city had to work, compared with just eight in 2012/2013. In addition, one of the events last season was a 14-inch snow in early February that required extra resources.

In case you have forgotten last winter, Thiel has gathered several numbers to help remind us. Here’s a look:

— The city had 30.2 inches of snow in 2013-2014, as measured in downtown. That was the second highest total of the last 10 years, trailing only the 36.4 inches in 2009/2010. The 10-year average is 17.4 inches. The smallest snowfall total of the last decade was 1.4 inches in 2006/2007.

— The city had 12 days in 2013/2014 with measurable snowfall. The average since 1981 is 13 days.

— February was the big month last year, with 16.2 inches of snow. That ranked the month as the fifth snowiest February on record in Lawrence. December had 5.3 inches, January 5.4 inches and March 3.3 inches.

Reply 7 comments from Merrill David Holroyd Fred St. Aubyn Carol Bowen

Alvamar Golf & Country Club confirms it is in negotiations to sell to local group; City Hall to look at proposed development at Clinton Parkway and Wakarusa

It is time to keep your eyes open at Lawrence’s Alvamar Golf and Country Club. And I’m not just talking about when I have a club in my hand on the tee box . . . or in the rough, or in the sand, or waist deep in one of the ponds. Instead, keep an eye out for news that the club has sold to a new local ownership group.

Bob Johnson, chairman of the board of directors of Alvamar Inc., confirmed to me that the shareholders of Alvamar are in the advanced stages of negotiations to sell the two golf courses, clubhouse and other assets to a local group.

“I have my fingers crossed,” Johnson said. “It is far better than a 50-50 proposition at this point.”

Johnson said he is hopeful that an agreement will be finalized by the end of this month. Johnson declined to identify any members of the potential ownership group, but speculation in certain business circles has focused on a group led by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel. Fritzel is the developer whom the city and Kansas University have worked with on the Rock Chalk Park sports complex, and Fritzel also was part of the group that developed The Oread hotel, and has developed significant amounts of property in downtown Lawrence.

Again, Fritzel’s involvement in the project isn’t confirmed yet, so you’ll have to decide how much stock you want to put in that speculation at the moment. I’ve reached out to Fritzel, but haven’t heard back from him. But the KU Athletics department has turned to Fritzel to help it with its facility needs for track and field, soccer and softball, so it is reasonable to think that Fritzel may be part of a plan to shore up the future of KU’s golf facilities. The KU golf teams use Alvamar as their base of operations, and it is my understanding that KU has had a desire to create a more secure long-term future for those facilities. It has been no secret that Alvamar has been on the market for several years, and that has created questions about how KU’s program would fit into the plans of a new ownership group.

Johnson didn’t provide any details about what plans a new ownership group would have for the property, which is located in the heart of west Lawrence, just south and west of Bob Billings Parkway and Kasold Drive. But Johnson said he’s confident the future plans are for the property to operate as a golf and country club. The approximately 100 shareholders who own the course previously have stated they are only interested in selling the property to a group that is committed to the community and the university. Whenever a sale of Alvamar comes up, the potential for infill development always comes up. The facility has 36 holes of golf — both a public and a private course — and speculation always turns to whether a new ownership group would reduce the number of holes of golf and redevelop a portion of the property. I received no details on any such plans or thinking along those lines.

“Who can say what ultimately will happen, but there is no reason to believe that it will be anything but better,” Johnson said.

I’ll let you know when we hear of a finalized deal.

In other news and notes from around town:

• Another west Lawrence property to keep an eye on is at Clinton Parkway and Wakarusa Drive. The northeast corner of that intersection is an undeveloped piece of steeply sloping ground. But as we have reported over the years, there is interest in building a multi-use bank, retail and office building on the site. The project, though, has been slow to develop. The project has been in the planning stages since 2006, but tenants for the site haven’t yet materialized.

At tonight’s City Commission meeting, commissioners will be asked to keep the project alive. The city is being asked to pass an extension of the project’s approved development plan. Development plans generally expire after two-years of sitting inactive. The city has passed three extensions for the plan in the past. But this time some neighbors of the project are objecting.

The neighbors have expressed concern about drainage issues and the potential loss of some trees and vegetation that separate the neighborhood from the proposed commercial site. But as some commissioners have pointed out, the property has been zoned and planned for commercial development since 2007, and many of the neighbors have moved into their homes next to the site subsequent to that zoning. In other words, it has been forecasted that such a change could be coming.

Commissioners, though, have said they do want to look at the plans in more detail and see what assurances can be made to neighbors about the green belt that currently separates the two properties. Plus, it probably is worth remembering that the property may sit as it is for a considerable amount of time. The site is a challenging one to build on, and I haven’t yet heard of any plans to begin construction at the site in the foreseeable future.

Reply 1 comment from Brad Hightower

Leader of Alvamar says speculation of pending sale of club and golf course incorrect; preparations for Final Four begin to show up around town

When it comes to golf and rumors, I have been involved in several, and I'm proud to say I have never once been convicted of criminal damage to property. (Best golf tip I ever received: Never use a monogrammed golf ball.) So, I thought I should do my part to clear up a rumor floating around about Alvamar Golf & Country Club. A sale is not imminent, and neither is a plan that would eliminate nine holes of the 36-hole complex in West Lawrence.

"There is a lot of speculation about what people think they could do with Alvamar and some infill development," said Bob Johnson, chairman of the board of directors of Alvamar Inc. "But I know there are not plans to do away with even one of the 36 holes of golf that we have out there."

Johnson said rumors that a local developer is close to purchasing the country club and golf course also aren't true. When asked whether such a deal had been put on the back burner, Johnson said, "it is not even in the kitchen."

But it is no secret that the course and club have been available for purchase, by the right buyer. Johnson said that is still the case, mainly because the approximately 100 shareholders of Alvamar Inc. are generally in retirement age and believe a transition needs to be made.

"We are interested in selling, but we are equally interested in making sure the new ownership is committed to the community and the university," Johnson said.

Alvamar's country club course is home base for KU's golf program.

Johnson didn't provide any insight into why speculation about Alvamar's future has increased lately. For what it is worth, the speculation I had heard was connected to the talk going around town about convention centers and potential partnerships with Kansas University.

"I can tell you that we're not any closer or any more active on the sale front than we have been in the last year or so," Johnson said. "Nobody is close to buying it."

Johnson also made a point to note that Alvamar Inc., which in addition to owning the country club also owns significant amounts of raw ground in West Lawrence, doesn't need to sell the course for financial reasons. Johnson said the market for development ground is clearly rebounding in Lawrence, and Alvamar Inc.'s financial position is strong.

In other news and notes from around town:

• With KU ready to play its first Big 12 tourney game today, we are officially in March Madness. While the games are just getting started, the planning for the ultimate madness — if KU reaches the Final Four — is well underway. As they have in past years, city commissioners have approved an ordinance creating special rules for glass bottles and containers in the downtown area during the Elite Eight and Final Four time periods of the NCAA tournament.

From Saturday, March 29 to Monday March 31, anyone caught with a glass bottle or other glass container on downtown streets or sidewalks will be subject to a $100 fine. That's the weekend teams will play in the Elite Eight and punch their ticket to the Final Four with a victory. Such victories by the Jayhawks have been known to cause thousands of people to flood downtown for a massive street party. The same regulations will be in place the following week from Saturday April 5 to Tuesday April 8, which is when the Final Four and National Championship game will be held.

Walking around with a beer bottle on Massachusetts Street generally subjects you to a possible open container violation. But honestly, during Final Four celebrations, the open container violations often are too many to keep up with. But city officials do work hard to limit glass containers because of the safety hazards they can create. Many bars and restaurants often help out by serving even bottled beer in plastic cups during the time period.

The other March Madness preparation that happens around this time is that T-shirt companies start staking out their location for tents that will sell KU Final Four t-shirts. Lawrence-based Sun Creation has filed permits for 2300 Louisiana, which is the parking lot of Checkers, and 601 Kasold Drive, which is the Westlake Hardware parking lot. More will follow, if KU's fortunes are good.

Now, all we need is some vendor who is selling magic Joel Embid Back Cream. We'll let you set up anywhere you want.

• After you get done watching KU vs Oklahoma State, which tips off at 2 p.m. today, come over for a fun evening of the Lawrence City Commission and rental licensing discussions. You don't even need to take off your Crimson and Blue face paint, your Beak 'Em Hawks house slippers, and that giant Jayhawk tail feather. (I assume we're all wearing that again this year.) Commissioners will host a pubic information session from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Lawrence High School cafeteria, 1901 Louisiana.

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    Alvamar Country Club strikes new management deal, takes itself off the market

    There have been some changes at Alvamar Country Club that executives with the business say are designed to solidify its future as a locally owned golf and country club.

    On March 1, the club ended its relationship with Billy Casper Golf, a management company that widely was viewed as preparing Alvamar for a sale.

    At the beginning of the month, Alvamar brought in a new management team, led by former Alvamar executive Bryan Minnis, and signed an agreement with Leawood-based Orion Management Solutions to help with operations of the 36-hole golf and country club in west Lawrence.

    Minnis said that with the change Alvamar no longer is listing the courses and club for sale with brokers and is no longer actively marketing the property.

    “We’re going to operate it in a way that we may very well own it for the next 25 years,” Minnis said.

    The club is owned by Alvamar Inc., the company founded by the late powerhouse Lawrence developer Bob Billings. The company has about 100 shareholders, including Minnis, who has served on Alvamar’s board. Minnis said that as those shareholders die and leave their shares to heirs, that is not the ideal ownership situation for the club. He said ultimately the ownership situation of the club likely will change, but the new philosophy is to let that process evolve more naturally.

    “Alvamar is not for sale, but it could be bought,” Minnis said. “If the right buyer came along, we would have those discussions.”

    But Minnis said he hopes the new direction of the club proves that the business isn’t in a holding pattern. Renovations are under way on the Alvamar clubhouse, including a complete remodel of the bar, and a new Bob Billings Banquet Room and a new “fireside lounge” honoring Charlie Oldfather, another of the club’s founders. The club also is examining the feasibility of an expansion that would add a new pool and fitness area.

    On the golf course, new white silica sand is being added to the sand traps. (Alvamar has sand traps? I’ve never gotten out of the trees and the ponds.)

    Minnis, who once served as Alvamar’s director of golf and sales/marketing before Billy Casper took over about two years ago, said there are no current plans to convert the 18-hole public course over to a fully private facility.

    Alvamar has one private course and one public course, and there had been discussion under Billy Casper’s management to convert the public course to a members-only facility. But Minnis said he doesn’t believe that will be necessary until the club reaches about 800 golfing members. Currently, it has about 500 golfing members.

    Minnis also confirmed that the company has been approached by developers interested in developing some types of retirement communities near the course. Minnis said Alvamar hasn’t ruled out the idea but isn’t actively pursuing it at the moment.

    “The question really is whether it is possible.” Minnis said. “Do we have enough developable land internally, could it be approved, what would the impact be on Alvamar and the surrounding neighborhood? We don’t have plans of initiating anything ourselves, but we know their is interest from some developers in the community.”

    In addition to Minnis, the new management team includes several other people who have worked in the area golf industry. They include:

    • Eric Magnuson, director of golf, who previously was worked at Moila Shrine Country Club in St. Joseph, Mo., and was an assistant professional at Lawrence Country Club.

    • Paul Hooser, director of instruction, who came from Overland Park’s city-owned golf courses.

    • Jen Nuessen, dining and event services director, who previously has been with Adams Pointe Golf Club in Blue Springs, Mo., and the Shawnee Country Club in Topeka.

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