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Details emerge on why state rejected proposed Clinton Lake resort; update on Eagle Bend golf course

I don't know about you, but relaxing at a lakeside resort sounds like a pretty good idea today. A resort along Clinton Lake, however, may require me to get out my special thermal, full-length swimming trunks on this crisp day.

No reason to get your hopes up on that front anyway. As we reported earlier this month, the latest idea for a Clinton Lake resort is dead. Well, now we have more details about why. The state has released the lone proposal it received for a Clinton Lake Resort, and it had a pretty interesting twist: Kind-of, sort-of, the resort would have been owned by the city and the county.

The proposal submitted by LodgeWell Resorts called for a nonprofit ownership structure. According to the documents released by the state, a nonprofit hotel corporation would have been formed, and the city and the county would have appointed its board.

(Think of the possibilities. We could have started having City Commission meetings at the resort. Forget using Twitter to get people engaged in meetings. Offer free massages.)

Well, city and county commissioners never got to the point of having to consider participating in the project because state officials deemed it unfeasible. The idea was that a private company would have had a contract to operate the resort, but not own it. Based on the documents released, it looks like the project would have been financed by "tax-exempt hotel revenue bonds." That implies that the revenue from the hotel would have paid off the bondholders. I couldn't tell from the documents who would pay off the bondholders if the hotel didn't produce enough revenue.

At this point, it is all water under the bridge, but I thought it was interesting information to share because it provides a glimpse at how difficult it may be to get a feasible resort proposal for Clinton, at least in today's marketplace.

The proposal also included some other details:

— The hotel initially would have been 120 rooms with a restaurant, bar, bistro and conference center. Later phases would have included a 60-room expansion of the hotel, cabins, an "event pavilion" and a chapel.

— Developers had selected a 65-acre site in the state park for the project. The documents didn't do a great job of showing its location, but it appeared to be on the elevated point just south and east of the existing swimming beach.

— The project had an estimated phase I cost of $26.4 million. Average room rates were projected at $143 to $168 per night over the next five years.

— In addition to the four-story hotel, the concept plan showed a boat dock, tennis courts and sports fields, a "challenge course" complete with rope bridge and climbing wall, a spa and on-site hiking and biking trails.

— Developers described the design of the facility as "inspired by hunting and fishing lodges of the Midwest, using rubble stone, roughhewn logs, and shake shingles."

— LodgeWell, a relatively new company based in the Kansas City area, did attract a veteran resort designer to the project. PGAV designed the original Big Cedar Lodge resort in Branson, Mo., and also has designed many of the region's larger casino hotels.

The leaders of the state's Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism still believe that a resort idea is feasible at the lake. City Manager David Corliss has confirmed that his office has met with the leader of the state's wildlife and parks department to discuss the state's continuing interest.

I wouldn't be surprised if the state issues another request for proposals at some point in the future. I would expect a new request for proposals to make it clear that the state is open to smaller resort concepts, and also would provide more details about how the city of Lawrence could be involved in the project, such as through the extension of city utilities to the state park site.

The big question will be whether changing the parameters of the project will change the level of interest from resort developers. Perhaps we'll see.

Speaking of changing, I guess I might as well change out of these swimming trunks.

In other news and notes from around town:

• While we're in the general vicinity, we might as well report some news about the Eagle Bend Golf Course below the Clinton Lake Dam. The course has attracted a well-known name in Lawrence golf circles. Jon Zylstra, the longtime pro at Lawrence Country Club, has left that position to become a golf pro at the city-owned Eagle Bend. He started in the position this week.

Parks and recreation officials told me earlier that they were excited to have him join the staff because of his contacts with local businesses and potential sponsors of golf tournaments and events at the course.

"And we're really going to charge him with making our junior golf program at the course awesome," said Mark Hecker, parks and recreation's assistant director.

The golf course will be looking for a bounce-back year in 2014. Through the first three quarters of the year, rounds and revenue are down at the course. Golfers through September had played 19,374 rounds, which was a 9 percent decrease from the same period in 2012. Revenue is down about $25,000, or 3.6 percent, to $683,000. But parks and recreation officials also have cut expenses by about 8 percent to keep the course from operating at a deficit. Department officials are projecting that the course will finish the year with revenues over expenses of about $50,000, although they note that will involve deferring some maintenance and equipment purchases.

And yes, because I know it is a point of consternation with some, it is worth noting that Eagle Bend's financials don't include all of its expenses. The course, for example, does not pay for the debt service on its bonds. Those bonds are paid through general city tax revenues.

• If adding a new golf pro at Eagle Bend provides a boost, maybe adding a swimming pro will do the same for the city's aquatics program. I hear Michael Phelps isn't doing a lot these days. Swimming activity in the city was down significantly in 2013, but parks and recreation leaders said a portion of that was a result of odd weather patterns that hurt the outdoor pool.

Revenue at the outdoor pool was down 6 percent compared to last year. Thus far, revenue at the indoor pool is down 11 percent from a year ago. One other area in the parks and recreation department also suffered a significant decline: Adult sports, which includes the city's popular softball leagues, is down 7 percent through September.

On the other side of the equation, enrollment in parks and recreation classes continues to grow. Class revenue is up 6 percent compared to a year ago. Youth sports, which the city is betting heavily on at Rock Chalk Park, basically held steady for the year, with revenues up 1 percent to $200,000 through September.

Overall, the city is projecting its recreation budget will finish the year with a deficit of between $30,000 and $80,000. It has reserve funds to cover that shortfall.

A concept plan submitted in 2013 for a proposed resort at Clinton Lake State Park. - Courtesy State of Kansas

A concept plan submitted in 2013 for a proposed resort at Clinton Lake State Park. - Courtesy State of Kansas by Chad Lawhorn

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    State seeking proposal to develop resort at Clinton Lake State Park

    The idea of a destination-style resort at Clinton Lake — an old proposal that resurfaced late last year — is becoming more serious.

    Officials with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism are seeking proposals, due next month, to develop a 175-room hotel with a conference center and various restaurant and recreational facilities somewhere inside Clinton Lake State Park.

    Robin Jennison, the state’s wildlife and parks secretary, confirmed to the Journal-World last September that he was seriously studying the idea of a significant resort development for Clinton Lake, which is just west of the Lawrence city limits.

    According to new state documents, Jennison is negotiating a 50-year lease with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the lake and owns the property around it.

    The resort would be run by a private development company, but through a contract with the State of Kansas. Private money would be used to fund the construction of the resort.

    HVS Consulting and Valuation Services, a national hotel industry consulting firm, has prepared a feasibility study that suggests a number of amenities that would be needed to make Clinton Lake a regional destination. They include:

    • a 175-room hotel

    • a conference center, including a 6,500-square-foot ballroom and about 9,000 square feet of additional meeting room space

    • three restaurants, including a full-service restaurant, a lakeside bar and grill with courtyard, and a poolside bar and grill

    • a spa

    • an outdoor pool

    • an indoor/outdoor pool

    • a water sports center, which would include equipment for kayaking, sailing, wakeboards, jet skiing and water skiing

    • an outdoor sports center, which would include hiking guides, bike rentals, and sports court. Guests also would be expected to have access to the city-owned Eagle Bend Golf Course, which is below the Clinton Lake Dam.

    Of course, all of this still is in the concept stage, and there is one big detail that is still very much unknown: The specific site for the development. The request for proposals asks developers to specify where they would like the resort to be located within the state park.

    The development group also would have to make the necessary arrangements with the city of Lawrence to extend water and sewer service to the site. Currently, the state park is not connected to the city’s water and sewer service.

    I haven’t had a chance to talk with Secretary Jennison today, but will try to do so. When I chatted with him in September, however, it was clear he was very excited about the prospects and had taken a personal interest in trying to get the idea moving ahead.

    “I can tell you that is an idea that is very important to me,” Jennison said. ““With K-10 (the South Lawrence Trafficway) on track to be completed, that really adds to the potential of Clinton. Clinton is one of our great lakes. It may have one of the nicest marinas in the state, it has a stable water source, and it is close to a vibrant community. It has a lot going for it that would be attractive for a resort.”

    There has been at least one other previous serious discussion of a resort at Clinton. That was back in 2001, but negotiations with the Corps of Engineers to allow a resort at the lake were difficult.

    We’ll see how things progress this time. The hotel market already has been an active one in Lawrence. This project could be a game-changer for that industry.

    Proposals are due into the state by July 17.

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