A multimillion dollar remodeling project that involves making space for more fresh-baked cookies: Don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you with tales from my kitchen remodeling project. But I do have news about the major renovation underway at the former Holiday Inn at 200 McDonald Drive.
The Holiday Inn — the largest hotel and convention site in Lawrence — is no longer a Holiday Inn. The Holiday Inn sign was removed a few days ago and replaced with a simple one that reads “Lawrence Hotel & Convention Center.” But don’t get too attached to that catchy name. Soon enough the property will become a DoubleTree by Hilton, which is the hotel chain that gives out freshly baked chocolate chip cookies to its guests.
We reported on the planned change to a DoubleTree back in May. Hotel officials told me this week the DoubleTree deal is still very much going to happen, but the name change can’t occur until all the construction work at the property is complete.
“The Hilton officials won’t bless it until we show them that we are at a Hilton quality, and we definitely will be,” said Stephen Horton, general manager of the hotel.
The hotel has pulled building permits for $1.45 million worth of renovations at the site thus far. Currently 128 rooms in the 192-room hotel are closed as part of the remodeling process. Hotel officials weren’t ready to say yet when the hotel will fully reopen.
Work is well underway on the project, though. Here are some details:
• The project when complete will continue to have 192 rooms. But 70 of the rooms will be made larger. Interior rooms on the second, third and fourth floors will be expanded by 70 square feet each, which will allow for couches and a greater living room area. The hotel also will expand its number of suites to four, up from one today.
• Perhaps you remember the old Holidome lobby, which featured lots of plants, an indoor pool and a miniature golf course. (With that combination, you would have thought the golf balls would have floated and swimmers would understand ‘fore,’ but neither was the case.) Well, the pool remains, but the plants and golf course are gone. The new lobby will sport a whole new design, featuring lots of natural stone and many seating areas to accommodate small meetings.
• A portion of the lobby space will be devoted to a Made Market, a DoubleTree concept that sells lots of ready-to-eat meals, convenience items and other such merchandise that travelers may need, said Heather Shull, director of sales for the Lawrence hotel.
• The remodel will include a new breakfast bar area for hotel guests, but the hotel’s existing Boulevard Grill will remain open.
Community leaders will be watching the DoubleTree project, in part, because the hotel plays a large role in attracting lucrative conventions and conferences to town. The renovations don’t include adding significant new convention space to the property, but will include updates to the existing space.
Shull said the hotel will continue to have a little more than 18,000 square feet of convention and meeting space. She said it is being updated with new carpeting, wall coverings, new ceilings, more modern lighting and other technology upgrades.
Shull said the renovation project is giving the hotel a big opportunity to win new convention business for the community.
“We are really reaching out to business that we had years ago,” Shull said of the associations and other such groups that host annual conferences across the state. “We’re telling them that what we’re creating here is much different than what they previously experienced with us. Lawrence is such a fun town that we ought to have a lot of convention business. We just have to get the associations to consider moving some of their events out of Topeka and Kansas City.”
Shull said the facilities can easily host meetings of more than 350 people, banquets of 650 or more, and theater-style events upwards of 1,000 people.
“It definitely will help our meeting and convention business,” Shull said of the renovation and DoubleTree Brand. “Actually, we think that business is going to skyrocket.”
New proposal for 120-foot tall tower in eastern Lawrence; hotel owner confirms Holiday Inn to become DoubleTree by Hilton
Representatives with Verizon have filed plans to build a 120-foot tall communications tower just a few blocks from the site of a previous proposal that brought strong opposition from neighbors and landed City Hall in a federal lawsuit.
According to paperwork filed at the city’s planning office, Verizon is seeking permission to build a new tower on the site of the Ottawa Co-op grain elevators at 2001 Moodie Road. I don’t know if Verizon still uses the catch phrase “Can you hear me now?” but if it does, the company may be hearing from east Lawrence residents, “We told you so.”
If you remember, in late 2014 Verizon and neighbors sparred over a proposal to build a 120-foot tall tower at 1725 Bullene Ave. That’s about three blocks away from the Ottawa Co-op site. Neighbors during the debate frequently said the co-op site would be a more appropriate location for the tower, but Verizon officials insisted they studied the site and it wouldn’t work.
Now, in fairness to Verizon, perhaps they are trying to do something a little different with this new tower, and that has changed the analysis. It is unclear from the application whether this tower is meant to replace the previously proposed tower on Bullene Avenue. City commissioners in December rejected the plans for the Bullene site. A few weeks later, Verizon filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking an order requiring the city to approve the plans. City Attorney Toni Wheeler told me that the federal lawsuit is still pending. So, it is going to take a little more time to sort all this out.
As for the new tower, a Verizon official said in a letter to City Hall that the tower will help ease capacity problems at surrounding towers, including a primary one that serves the KU campus.
“Without the addition of this communications facility Verizon could realize significantly reduced services and very possibly lack of services in an emergency situation,” the company wrote in its application to the city.
The debate over the Bullene site largely centered on how close the tower would be to houses. The co-op site is in more of an industrial area. But the project will involve building a new tower rather than putting an antenna on top of of the co-op’s existing grain elevator. Engineers for Verizon previously said they were not comfortable that the grain elevator could adequately host the antennas. We’ll see whether anybody has a problem with tall structures in that area. The area has long been home to one of the taller structures in the city. The grain elevator is 130 feet tall, according to information submitted to the city. If you remember, the co-op also has filed plans to build a new 75-foot tall grain bin at the site. Here’s a look at the proposed location.
As required by city code, the proposed tower would have space for at least two other wireless phone companies to place their antennas on the tower as well. The tower proposal will seek approval from the planning commission and ultimately the City Commission in the next several weeks.
In other news and notes from around town:
• A couple of weeks ago, we reported there was a lot of speculation that Lawrence’s Holiday Inn and Convention Center was going to become a DoubleTree by Hilton hotel. Well, it is speculation no longer. The ownership group of the hotel has confirmed that it will change the brand in March.
Hulsing Hotels — the Asheville, N.C.-based company that operates the Holiday Inn — said in a release that it plans a “multimillion dollar” renovation of the entire property. The release didn’t provide many details about what will change with the property, other than an extensive renovation.
“The dramatic changes are expected to raise the standard for all hotels and convention centers in the area,” the release states. “The total renovation of the hotel will provide the city with a modern convention facility. Every aspect of the property will be upgraded, including an expansion of the majority of the guest rooms to better accommodate guests.”
Management at the Holiday Inn previously has confirmed that the project won’t involve an expansion of the convention center or banquet space, which currently can host events of around 600 people. Currently, the hotel has 192 guest rooms, which makes it the largest in the city. No word on whether that number will change, given that it sounds like some of the room sizes will expand. The hotel also has 15,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space, which is the largest hotel-based conference and event space in the city.
The DoubleTree brand will bring another upper scale hotel offering to the city. DoubleTree by Hilton has 415 properties across the globe. It is best known for providing guests with a chocolate chip cookie upon their arrival.
The remodel continues a trend by Hulsing Hotels. Although based in North Carolina, its ownership has its roots in Topeka and Manhattan. CEO Dennis Hulsing grew up in Topeka and attended Kansas State. The company owns about 10 hotels, with several of them in the northeast Kansas area. Those include: the Four Points by Sheraton at the Kansas City Sports Complex in KCMO, the Four Points by Sheraton in Manhattan and the Four Points by Sheraton at KCI.
It will be interesting to see how the changes at the Holiday Inn affect the discussion about whether to build a new conference center downtown. Full Disclosure: Owners of The World Company, which publishes the Journal-World and LJWorld.com, have proposed building a conference center, hotel and mixed-use project on downtown property owned by the company.
The city in recent weeks received a report from its conference center consultant that reviewed the Holiday Inn and other conference spaces in town. The report found the community could support 30,000 to 37,500 square feet of new conference center space. Further, the report said the downtown area is where many event planners have expressed an interest in new space. As part of that conference center space, the report estimated the city needed 10,000 to 12,500 square feet of meeting room space to host modern-day conferences. The Holiday Inn, the report noted, has only about 600 square feet of meeting room space. No word yet on whether the renovation will reallocate space within the hotel to address that issue. (Some clarification on the meeting room issue: The Holiday Inn clearly has more than 600 square feet of space to host events. As we noted earlier in this article, it has around 15,000 square feet. But the consultant's report also tried to differentiate that space between exhibit space, banquet space, breakout meeting room space and other such uses. The city-hired consultant listed the amount of meeting space at the Holiday Inn at 600 square feet. Stephen Horton, general manager at the Holiday Inn, though told me this morning that he disagrees with that assessment. He said the hotel has the ability to configure space in a way that has much more room for breakout meeting space than that. So, we'll see, perhaps the consultant's report will be updated with different numbers. You can see the current report here. )
But the City Hall report also noted that some level of public support would likely be needed to build a downtown conference center of 30,000 square feet or more. Given other budget issues the city is dealing with, that will be a major point of discussion at City Hall — assuming commissioners choose to have the discussion at all. The next step in the process is for the City Commission to decide whether it wants to hire the consulting firm to do a phase II report. That report would produce cost estimates for a facility, and give the city a better idea of what type of assistance may be sought. The city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau Advisory Board has recommended the phase II study be conducted, but there is no word yet on when that issue will get a vote by the City Commission.
City set to select Stoddard to serve as interim city manager; speculation that Holiday Inn will become a DoubleTree by Hilton
Lawrence city commissioners are now off and running in their process to find a replacement for departing City Manager David Corliss. As expected, commissioners are turning to current Assistant City Manager Diane Stoddard to serve as an interim replacement for Corliss, who has taken a job in Colorado.
Commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting will consider approving an employment contract to pay Stoddard $145,000 a year to serve as the interim city manager. The contract is open ended in terms of length. Stoddard will serve as interim city manager until a permanent replacement is found. The contract allows Stoddard to apply for the permanent position. It also calls for her to be reinstated as an assistant city manager if she is not selected as Corliss’ replacement. It provides a severance package of six months' pay if she is dismissed from her duties by the City Commission or by a new city manager within one year of the new manager's start date. All in all, the contract seems to be pretty standard for an interim position.
Stoddard has deep ties to Lawrence. She was born and raised here, and received both her graduate and undergraduate degrees from Kansas University. Stoddard was hired in 2007 to become an assistant city manager. She previously had worked as a deputy city manager for the city of Manhattan. She has expertise in working on economic development issues. She’s led City Hall’s efforts on many of the downtown redevelopment projects in recent years.
Stoddard’s appointment as interim city manager was largely expected. She’s the most experienced assistant city manager on the staff. Both Mayor Jeremy Farmer and City Commissioner Mike Amyx already had publicly endorsed her for the position.
I haven’t yet talked with Stoddard about whether she plans to apply to become Corliss’ permanent replacement. I would suspect that she’ll give it strong consideration. The position likely will attract a large number of applicants. KU is home to a top-ranked graduate program in public administration, which means there is an unusually large number of city managers across the country that have a personal connection with Lawrence.
City commissioners still haven’t provided details on when they plan to begin the formal search process to find a new City Manager. Hiring an interim, though, was seen as the first step.
Corliss’ last day with the city will be May 28. Stoddard’s tenure as interim city manager will begin May 29. City Hall is hosting a public reception for Corliss at 5:30 p.m. May 11 at the Carnegie Building in downtown. Corliss is leaving Lawrence to become town manager for Castle Rock, Colo.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It appears a major change is coming to Lawrence’s largest hotel as the community gets more serious about attracting conferences and conventions. I’m hearing a lot of speculation that the Lawrence Holiday Inn and Convention Center is set to drop the Holiday Inn brand and become a DoubleTree Hotel, which is part of the Hilton chain.
Holiday Inn General Manager Stephen Horton said he couldn’t comment on possible brand changes. But he said a formal announcement about “very significant changes” for the hotel is expected within the next few days.
We previously have reported that a major renovation project for the Holiday Inn, located off the Kansas Turnpike on McDonald Drive, is in the works. In January we reported that the ballroom and convention center would be closed in June for a complete renovation. But the idea that the hotel is going to become part of the prominent Hilton system is new.
The DoubleTree by Hilton chain has more than 400 hotels in 33 countries, according to its website. It is perhaps best known for providing guests a warm cookie upon arrival. (It is chocolate chip, and the chain uses 950,000 pounds of chocolate chips each year, which also is known as a smidgen in the Lawhorn household.)
Horton told me some renovation work on rooms has begun. He said several rooms will be larger. It was unclear to me whether the total room count at the hotel would remain the same. With 192 rooms, the Holiday Inn is the largest hotel in the city. With a little less than 15,000 square feet of meeting and ballroom space, the hotel also is the largest hotel-based conference and event space in the city. Many of the renovations will be focused on that meeting and banquet space, Horton said. He said the total amount of space won’t change, but everything else about it will.
“This won’t just put a new shine on it,” Horton said. “We’ll basically be doing everything from wall to wall and from floor to ceiling.”
I expect to get more details about the renovations in the next few days. I suspect we’re talking about major changes in style, design, amenities and technology. A lot has changed in the conference and event world since the space was last renovated. (For example, if you want to host the Kansas City Royals Caravan, you now need a full first aid station and the ability to bolt chairs to the floor.)
We’ll see how the changes to the Holiday Inn impact the discussion about whether to build a new conference center downtown. Full Disclosure: Owners of The World Company, which publishes the Journal-World and LJWorld.com, have proposed building a conference center, hotel and mixed-use project on downtown property owned by the company.
I suspect city commissioners in the next few weeks will have some conversations about where a downtown conference center falls on their list of priorities. A preliminary report by a city-hired consultant is now complete, and it finds that there is some unmet demand for conference center space in the city. I’ll bring you more details on that report as I wade through it.
Lawrence is many different types of towns. We're a university town. We're a basketball town. And as a quick peek into any of those glass recycling Dumpsters around the city can attest, we're also a beer town.
The folks at Kansas City-based Boulevard Brewing Co. are hoping to capitalize on that reputation more than they already do. Boulevard Brewing Co. is part of a new venture to open a Boulevard Grill inside the Lawrence Holiday Inn and Convention Center, 200 McDonald Drive.
The restaurant and bar will replace the Paddy O'Quigley's that has been in the hotel for several years.
Stephen Horton, general manager of the hotel, told me the switch will occur this week. The restaurant has a ribbon cutting scheduled for Dec. 19.
Horton said the restaurant always will have a minimum of six Boulevard beers on tap, and also will feature bottles of several of Boulevard's premium beers, such as its Smokestack Series, its IPA, its 80-Acre Hoppy Wheat and its Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale.
The restaurant also will have several dishes that incorporate Boulevard Beer, such as a bratwurst dish with a Boulevard Pale Ale mustard, and a fish and chips dish that uses a Boulevard brew in its batter. Plus, the restaurant will make suggestions on which Boulevard beer goes best with certain types of dishes.
(See, as I tell my wife, I'm not going there to drink beer. I'm going there to get a culinary education. Lawrence is an education town too, after all.)
Horton said the Holiday Inn became interested in a Boulevard Grill after the hotel's parent company opened one in the Sheraton Four Points hotel near Kansas City International.
"And Boulevard was very eager to get more exposure into Lawrence," Horton said. "As they said, it is a great beer town."
Horton said the restaurant will have a sports bar theme, and he hopes the establishment will appeal to local residents in addition to hotel guests. Plans call for the restaurant to be open only for evening meals, with an opening time of 5 p.m. on Sundays through Fridays. The restaurant, however, will open at noon on Saturdays.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I don't know if there is an actual policy needed on whether I should have two Boulevards with every bratwurst I consume, or three, but we do have a Douglas County Food Policy Council. (No word on whether the bratwurst issue is on a future agenda.) Soon, the Food Policy Council will be a joint endeavor with the city.
City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday will consider adopting a resolution making the council a joint board of the city and county. City commissioners will appoint nine of the 23 members of the council. Some city commissioners had expressed an interest in the city becoming more involved in food policy issues.
County commissioners agreed, noting that the city already is making available city-owned land for the Common Ground program, which provides a place for urban gardening and farming to take place. The Food Policy Council, all joking aside, considers issues such as the population's access to locally grown food, issues related to agricultural sustainability and other such topics.
• Speaking of the Common Ground program, leaders of the effort have put together their annual report for 2013. The big number in the report is 40,000. That's the number of pounds of produce grown by gardeners in the program in 2013.
Organizers of the program are estimating about 120 gardeners took part in the program and tended gardens at nine different sites. Those sites produced an estimated 40,000 pounds of food that had a market value of about $80,000. About 2,000 pounds of food were donated to organizations such as Just Food, the Ballard Center, LINK and Central Middle School.
The program had 5.6 acres of ground in production in 2013, but that number is slated to grow in 2014. The city is adding three more sites in 2014, with each site ranging in size from 0.4 to 1.5 acres. People interested in farming on a site need to submit an application to the city by 5 p.m. on Jan. 6. The city is hosting an informational meeting about the program at 5 p.m. today at City Hall.
Applications can be found here.