The wait is over for a commercial project to locate next to the city and KU’s Rock Chalk Park sports complex in northwest Lawrence. Developers have announced they’ve signed a deal for a $14.5 million hotel project.
A Wichita group has plans to build a 120-room Best Western Plus hotel on the property, which is just south of KU’s track and field stadium and the city’s Sports Pavilion Lawrence recreation center and fieldhouse.
More importantly, the hotel project represents the first commercial development to happen at the property. City officials have been eagerly awaiting commercial development to occur at the site, after having invested about $23 million in public money to build the parking and other infrastructure for the Rock Chalk Park sports complex. The sports complex was envisioned to be a magnet for commercial development, but the commercially-zoned land has sat empty since the sports complex opened in late 2014.
“We’re excited to be the lead-off tenant in this project,” Steve Martens, CEO of The Martens Companies and its hotel subsidiary, Hospitality Development of America, said in a release.
Martens, who is a 1975 graduate of KU, said he’s enjoyed watching the “dynamic and quality growth in west Lawrence” over the past several years. He said the new hotel will be designed to tap into two key markets in Lawrence: travelers coming for athletic events, and families with teens touring potential college locations.
The Best Western Plus brand features an indoor pool and an expanded fitness area and emphasizes an open, airy design in rooms and public areas of the hotel. The hotel will be operated by Hospitality Management LLC, which operates four other Best Western and Choice Hotel properties in Kansas and Oklahoma. It recently opened a Best Western Plus in Norman, Okla., next to to the University of Oklahoma campus.
Plans call for the hotel to be near the southwest corner of George Williams Way and Rock Chalk Drive, or basically right at the entrance of the sports complex.
The property slated for the hotel already has the necessary zoning for the project to proceed. Look for construction of the four-story building to begin this summer, and for it to open in early 2018.
It will be interesting to watch whether this hotel development serves as a catalyst for more development to come. The area near Rock Chalk Park can accommodate several hundred thousand square feet of retail development. Local businessmen Steve Schwada and Tim Fritzel are leading the group that is trying to attract tenants to the property.
The site is one of the few in town that is properly zoned to accommodate big box retailers, and the development group hasn’t been shy in making it known that it has tried to court Costco for the site. But several big box retailers — Menards and Dick’s Sporting Goods, to name two — have bypassed the property in favor of the south Iowa Street corridor.
Pat Peery, a broker with Kansas City based Lane 4 Property Group, is part of the team that has been hired to market the property to potential retailers. The hotel project is welcome news for their efforts to lure retailers to the site.
“I think it certainly will help,” Peery said. “We are glad to have a hotel. It always was in our plan to have at least one hotel. We still have a couple of major retail businesses that are considering the location. We are anticipating at some point we’ll be able to make an announcement on that front. And when that happens, that really will help things along.”
Retail developers have expressed concern that the property near Sixth Street and George Williams Way doesn’t yet have enough homes around it, but that is changing. Single-family homes are being built in the Oregon Trail addition just east of the property, and nearly 600 living units worth of apartments are being built just east of Rock Chalk Park as part of new golf course/apartment development.
“The more rooftops you have, the better the site shows,” Peery said. “And it is showing better all the time. We have had a large number of inquiries from out-of-town developers.”
Peery said the property’s selling points for retailers are that it has good access to Sixth Street and to the now-completed South Lawrence Trafficway.
“The growth on the west side of town is very positive,” Peery said. “It is where the future is heading, and people can see that.”
Peery said the site’s location also allows it to market to retailers who want to attract the eastern Topeka market. He said that was a selling point for the hotel project. The hotel company believes it is close enough to the Kansas Statehouse to compete well with hotels that are situated on the far west side of Topeka.
Thus far, the traffic generated by Rock Chalk Park hasn’t been a big selling point for traditional retailers. the amount of traffic coming and going from the complex isn’t likely to be enough to be a deciding factor on whether a big box store locates at the site. But Peery said the sports complex traffic will be a major selling point for restaurants. He predicts several restaurants will want to locate on the property, but he said the development needs that first big retailer to come in and build out infrastructure before the group can aggressively market to restaurants.
Getting that first big retailer is always the hardest part of any development. But if the first retailer — especially if it is a big one like a Costco — does come, the area is poised to be a major shopping area.
One concept plan that often is pitched to potential tenants shows a 140,000 square foot big box store on one end, a 100,000 square foot store on the other, with space for 13 other smaller retailers in between. In total, the concept plan shows about 640,000 square feet of commercial space around about 3,000 parking spaces.
The concept plan is almost certain to change, as the hotel project will require some alterations, but it does give you an idea of the scope of development the group is hoping for. As for the timing of when the next major announcement may come at the site, Peery directed me to Schwada. I haven’t yet heard back from him, but I’ll let you know if I do.
After a week of vacation, I’ve got hotels on my mind and my credit card. (I learned that in southern California you’ll spend $70 to park your rental car at the hotel. But, on the bright side, it didn’t cost me anything other than blood pressure medicine to park for hours at a time on the freeway system.) All this is to say I’ve got a few more details on Lawrence’s latest hotel project.
We reported in August that a deal was in the works for a new hotel to be built in eastern Lawrence where Don’s Steakhouse used to be near 23rd and O’Connell. But back then details were slim on what hotel was coming to the location. Well, I’ve now learned that a Country Inn & Suites is slated to go on the property.
Area businessman Mark Gwaltney, who is leading the development group, confirmed that the hotel chain has approved moving ahead with the project. Country Inn & Suites is kind of a late entrant to the project. Back in August, Gwaltney had told city officials that he was working with the large IHG hotel group on an extended-stay hotel, which led to speculation that IHG was bringing its Candlewood Suites brand to town.
But my understanding now is that IHG has a different Lawrence location in mind for that project. If you remember, we’ve also reported that the former Ramada Inn site near Sixth and Iowa streets is looking for a new hotel brand. A Candlewood could be a real possibility for that site.
As for Country Inn & Suites, it is part of the hotel group that has the various Radisson brand of hotels. The company describes Country Inn & Suites as an “upper midscale” hotel. Plans filed at City Hall call for a three-story building and 89 hotel rooms, plus a separate structure for an indoor pool. According to the hotel chain’s website, other amenities include a fitness center, free high-speed internet, free cookies and, importantly, complimentary hot breakfasts. (No, breakfast was not complimentary at my Disneyland hotel, and Donald Duck did not take it as a compliment when I asked if he came with orange sauce.)
The site plan application filed at City Hall lists the project to have about a $5.5 million construction value.
Gwaltney said he hopes to break ground on the project before the end of the year, but said that may be optimistic. The project will occupy the site where Don’s Steakhouse previously was located, which is on the north side 23rd Street, just west of O’Connell. The project also will demolish the old Diamond Everley Roofing headquarters, which is just east of the Don’s Steakhouse business.
Plans filed at City Hall show that portion of the property housing a restaurant. Gwaltney confirmed no deal has been struck for a restaurant yet. He said now that the hotel company has committed to the project, they’ll start reaching out to potential restaurant operators. He said they’ll look at both sit-down restaurants and fast food chains for the location.
Gwaltney is predicting the area around 23rd and O’Connell will change quite a bit in the future. He said he’s trying to get ahead of the changes by redeveloping the old Diamond Everley site — he’s an executive with that company — and the old steakhouse property.
“I just envision the area becoming more of a hub, more like what you would see on south Iowa Street or Sixth Street,” Gwaltney said. “I think the whole area is going to see a lot of renovation. I think the land will become more valuable than many of the old businesses that are on it.”
Others are thinking that way too. In recent weeks, the old Knights of Columbus building has again been listed on the market. As we reported last year, the Knights closed its longtime banquet facility that is just north and east of 23rd and O’Connell. The approximately two-acre property had been on the market, but then the for-sale signs disappeared. They have now reappeared. I talked briefly with Lance Johnson, the commercial broker listing the property. He said no deal is imminent, but said the changing nature of the area should attract interest in the property.
Both the Knights of Columbus property and the proposed hotel site are adjacent to the city’s new Venture Park business park, which is one of the reasons that Gwaltney said a hotel development makes sense for the site. But what is more likely to spark development in the area is the pending opening of the eastern leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway next month.
Others have been predicting new development near the 23rd and O’Connell intersection for quite awhile. A development group led by Doug Compton and Bill Newsome helped build the development at the southeast corner of the intersection that houses Tractor Supply. The development has additional space for retailers — a grocery store has long been on the wish list — but the project has failed to attract any new tenants since Tractor Supply came to the site more than five years ago.
One of the reasons why that development hasn’t taken off is because there are still lots of open green fields near the site. But that may be changing. It will be interesting to see if an eastside housing boom takes place on the large amounts of open land west of O’Connell Road.
Already construction work is underway on apartments on the east side of O’Connell Road, a bit south of 23rd Street. Lawrence businessman Roger Johnson also has begun building homes in a new subdivision west of O’Connell Road behind Tractor Supply and a bit west of the Douglas County Jail. I’ve had real estate agents tell me those homes will sell well because they can come in at lower price points than homes in west Lawrence.
There’s lots of open land west of O’Connell Road. The area will be more accessible when the eastern interchange of the SLT opens just a few blocks away. Some of you remember when the eastern part of Lawrence went through a housing boom in the 1990s and the Prairie Park neighborhood was created. That neighborhood was billed as working-class homes that were more affordable than what was being built further west. As affordable housing becomes the buzz phrase at City Hall, we’ll see whether developers turn to eastern Lawrence again.
Update on Spin pizza coming to Lawrence; keep eyes open for another hotel project; more updates on northwest development
Fall — it began Thursday, as evidenced by my perspiration having a certain pumpkin spice latte hue to it — makes me think of flannel. Flannel makes me think of lumberjacks. Lumberjacks make me think of the Northwest. So, let’s provide an update on some northwest Lawrence development. Yes, I really should think less.
• Trump vs. Clinton. Pepperoni vs. sausage. They are all choices you may have to make in November. I’m getting word that Kansas City’s Spin Neapolitan Pizza will open its Lawrence location sometime in November.
As we have reported, Spin is going into the new retail building just east of the Wal-Mart near Sixth and Wakarusa. As you can see below, that building is looking fairly complete from the outside. A representative with Spin alerted me to the likely November opening, but didn’t have an exact date to share yet.
If you have forgotten about Spin, it touts itself as an artisan-style pizzeria, with Neapolitan crusts. That means hand-spun, thin crusts that are cooked in a stone oven. The artisan part also means a variety of toppings. Cheeses range from the traditional mozzarella to Asiago, feta and something called taleggio. Meats include staples like Italian sausage and pepperoni but also Italian bacon, Scimeca’s meatballs, and salami. In addition there are things like arugula, pine nuts, crushed glazed pecans, fig onion marmalade and sun-dried tomato relish that you can put on your pizza and whatever tie you happen to be wearing that day.
The restaurant has been popular in Kansas City since it opened its first restaurant in 2005. We also have reported that Blue Moose Bar & Grill also will occupy a portion of the new Lawrence building. I haven’t heard an opening date yet for that facility, which is a Kansas City-based restaurant that serves a mix of sports bar dishes and more upscale dinner entrees. I would think November would be a good bet.
• Keep your eyes open for a new hotel project near Sixth and Wakarusa. Nothing is finalized, but a representative with the Bauer Farm development group near Sixth and Wakarusa did confirm that a group has signed a letter of intent to locate a hotel in the development.
As we have reported, the lot at the corner of Wakarusa Drive and Overland Drive — it is right behind the car wash — has been reserved for a hotel property. Bill Fleming, a Lawrence attorney with the development group that owns the lot, declined to identify the group or other details about the potential project, but said a letter of intent has been signed to build a hotel on the property. The deal is not yet done, however. More due diligence and city approvals will be required. We previously have noted that the lot could accommodate about an 80- to 100-unit hotel property. Fleming said interest from hotel properties had been strong.
“I think it is another example of where Rock Chalk Park has helped the community,” Fleming said.
The Rock Chalk Park Sports Complex, of course, is just down the road at Sixth Street and George Williams Way. This is the second hotel proposal in the last couple of months. As we have reported, an extended stay hotel is planned for the old Don’s Steakhouse property on the eastern edge of Lawrence along 23rd Street. I know many folks thought a hotel quickly would develop on the vacant, commercially zoned property near Rock Chalk Park, but that hasn’t been the case. Developers would welcome it, I’m sure, but I think most of the efforts continue to focus on bringing in a big box retailer for the site. I believe the thought process is that it will take a destination type of retailer to get some momentum going for commercial development in that area, which is still considered very much on the edge of town.
• A pizza, a moose, a hotel room to sleep off both of them: Absolutely I’m going to need the assistance of a financial institution. As we have reported, MidAmerican Credit Union is slated to build a new facility right behind the CVS near Sixth and Wakarusa. Well, the project came together quickly and is now completed. The building has a bit of a distinctive look to it, as you can see below.
Another unusual feature is that it is a bank — well, credit union — without teller windows. The credit union is testing a new design in banks that uses a pod system. A customer representative meets you at the door and walks you over to a computer station where the representative and the customer complete the transaction together.
• You may have noticed dirt work beginning on another piece of property along Sixth Street between Wakarusa and Folks. It is just west of the new apartment complex under construction, and just east of Starbucks. I can’t believe you already have forgotten what that will be: as we have reported, a Zaxby’s fried chicken restaurant. It is a chain that focuses on chicken fingers and chicken wings, with lots of sauce options. I’ll admit, I forgot what was going there too. There are so many new chicken places in town that I think the cholesterol is starting to clog my brain.
• You also may have noticed dirt work just east of Sixth and Folks Road next to Central Bank of the Midwest. As we have reported, that will be a new dentist office. The city has approved plans for a $2.5 million building that will house Growing Smiles Pediatric Dentistry, plus have space for two other medical tenants. Smart. Nothing is tougher on teeth than a moose, although maybe the blue variety is more tender.
• And finally, if you have a golf game like mine, it pays to know where all the window stores are located. The Pella Products store has located in the shopping center on the southwest corner of Sixth and Wakarusa. It is kind of next door to Eileen’s Colossal Cookies. The window store previously was located a bit east of Sixth and Kasold.
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.
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.