Local health club to add beer offerings as part of major renovation; Eldridge Hotel asks for 95 percent tax rebate for expansion
Sit-ups and suds: Three of the four words in that phrase sound like a heck of a plan. Soon, members of the newly renovated Genesis Health Club on Sixth Street will have the chance to add a cold beer to their workout routine. The club has filed plans with the city to add a small bar area in its lobby.
The club is in the final stages of a $1 million renovation that is revamping the locker rooms, workout areas and several other amenities. But as the project is about to wrap up, the club also has filed for a site plan and license that would allow the facility to serve beer in its lobby.
If the idea of going through a workout to get your body in shape and then following it up with a beer sounds odd to you, well, you obviously don’t understand the very sound, scientific principles behind light beer. Much scientific research has been done about how light beer can make you thin and beautiful, and if you doubt me, I can point you to a multitude of informative 30-second videos that clearly show thin, beautiful people doing amazing things with the help of light beer. (In my quest to be a well-rounded man of science, I plan to soon watch a new crop of these informative videos as part of a special conference known as the Super Bowl.)
Actually, an official with Genesis told me he’s not sure that many people are going to be interested in a beer after their workout, and that maybe wouldn’t be the advice personal trainers would give either. But, the club also is a social gathering place for a lot of people who get together to play a game of pick-up basketball, racquetball, handball and several other sports. I plan to do extensive research on this point, but I believe guys sometimes like to share a beverage after getting together for a game or two.
“It is part of the difference between a gym and a club,” said Joe Oxler, regional director for Genesis. “We really do focus on the idea of being a club.”
Oxler said the lobby of the club has undergone significant renovations, and they’re encouraging members to make it more of a social space.
“If members want to hang out and watch a basketball game, we want them to do that,” Oxler said.
In addition to the small beer area — there will just be two brands of beer on tap, Oxler said — the lobby also will feature a smoothie bar and some other concessions.
“But we’re definitely not becoming a night club or anything like that,” Oxler said.
The club, which is near Sixth and Mesa Way, plans to soon finish its renovations and hold an open house on Jan. 24.
The project has completely changed the Sixth Street facade of the facility, but much of the renovation has been focused on the interior. Oxler said new upscale locker rooms already have been opened. He said the cardio area will approximately double in size, the weight room will be completely re-equipped, the basketball court resurfaced, and the pool area will add a hot tub and dry sauna area.
The open house on Jan. 24 will run from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Oxler said the facility will be open to nonmembers to tour and use on that day.
In other news and notes from around town:
• As one downtown hotel gets ready to open — the Marriott at Ninth and New Hampshire — there are new signs that the venerable Eldridge Hotel is getting more serious about expanding. The hotel is seeking a 95 percent, 15-year property tax rebate for a project that would allow the hotel to expand onto the vacant lot just south of it.
We’ve reported on plans for an Eldridge expansion at least a couple of times over the last few years, but those plans ultimately ended up stalling out. But a new corporate entity — Eldridge Hotel, LLC — was created in late December and has filed for the tax rebate under the city’s Neighborhood Revitalization Act. The new entity appears to be a sign of a new momentum for the project.
Nancy Longhurst, general manager for The Eldridge, told city officials in a letter that the $12.5 million expansion would allow for 54 new rooms in the hotel, a new multipurpose space, and would allow for additional restaurant and bar space. In total, the multistory expansion would add 50,000 square feet to the hotel. The expansion would more than double the number of rooms, which I believe currently is 48.
The developers have submitted a rendering of the proposed project, and it looks similar but a bit larger than the plan that was submitted in April. Back then, we reported the project would add about 38 rooms to the hotel. Comparing the latest rendering with the one in April, it looks like the expansion has grown by about a story and is now six stories tall, and a bit taller than The Eldridge.
UPDATE: Werner this morning also gave me this rendering, which shows how the building will stair-step back from Massachusetts Street.
City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday are scheduled to formally receive the application for a tax break, but they aren’t scheduled to make any decisions on the request. Instead, commissioners are expected to refer the project to the Public Incentives Review Commission for a recommendation.
It will be interesting to see how quickly this project moves ahead. A plan for the expansion project was approved by the Historic Resources Commission in May, but a memo from the city’s planning staff notes that approval was based on several conditions that have not yet been met. Included in those is more work on the building’s elevations. City commissioners will have a decision to make on whether they want to approve the tax rebate request prior to all the necessary planning approvals. The commission could do that and make its approval contingent on the project complying with all necessary planning requirements. Or the commission could wait until the planning process is complete before it takes up the tax rebate issue.
The matter of timing is important because this is the season where timing at City Hall gets tricky: Election Season. The City Commission election will be April 7, and possibly a new majority could be seated that week on the five-member commission. The issue of tax breaks for large projects — The Oread hotel and the new Marriott hotel both have received them in recent years — already is shaping up to be a campaign issue with some candidates.
In addition, The Eldridge Hotel is operated by a group led by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel, although I don’t know who is involved in this new corporate entity that recently formed for the expansion project. But other documents suggest Fritzel is still part of the project, and voters are likely to remember that he also is the city’s private partner in the controversial Rock Chalk Park sports complex. These are two separate projects, obviously, but sometimes voters don’t make such separations in their minds.
It will be an interesting project to watch, and certainly one that continues the theme of Lawrence investing more heavily in trying to draw visitors to the community.
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.