You know something is going well when an industry built upon free breakfast bars and self-serve biscuits and gravy is flocking to your community. Yes, Lawrence is experiencing a hotel boom, and it appears to be continuing. I’ve learned plans are in the early stages for a new hotel to be built on the site of the old Ramada Inn near Sixth and Iowa streets.
Nav Patel, a principal with Kansas City-based Marquee Hospitality, has confirmed that his group has purchased the former Ramada Inn site at 2222 W. Sixth Street. If you don’t remember the Ramada, you evidently didn’t partake in my wedding buffet in 1999. (To clarify, the reception was at the TeePee Junction but we had Ramada truck the food in. Now do you remember?) Regardless, the site is just north and west of the Sixth and Iowa intersection, and more recently housed Rodeway Inn and a Howard Johnson.
Patel said plans haven’t yet been finalized, but he expects the new hotel to have 90 to 100 rooms. He said the group primarily is focusing on bringing either a Hilton or Marriott brand to the location.
“We want to put a nicer hotel in Lawrence,” Patel said. “We think there is good demand there. It is a good intersection. You make one turn and you go to the university, or you turn the other way and you go to downtown.”
Both Hilton and Marriott operate a variety of hotel brands that aren’t currently in Lawrence. Some of the more common ones are Hilton Garden, Homewood Suites by Hilton, Embassy Suites, Courtyard by Marriott, and Residence Inn by Marriott. And, don’t forget, Marriott operates the Ritz-Carlton chain and Hilton operates the Waldorf Astoria brand. Unless I have a cracker in hand, however, I’m not planning on putting on the Ritz anytime soon. The hotel brand I’ve heard mentioned with the site is a Fairfield Inn by Marriott, but there’s no confirmation with that.
Patel did confirm that his group has begun having conversations with City Hall about the project. He said he hopes to have plans submitted for the property in the next few months and to have construction underway by the middle of next year.
Marquee Hospitality operates about eight hotels, Patel said, with a couple in Kansas City and few in the Washington, D.C. area.
Lawrence has been an active place for hotel construction in recent years. First there was the The Oread hotel built near the KU campus, then the Marriott TownePlace at Ninth and New Hampshire, and then a Comfort Inn on McDonald Drive near the Kansas Turnpike. Most recently, the former Holiday Inn on McDonald Drive is undergoing a major renovation as it plans to become a DoubleTree by Hilton in the coming months.
One thing that will be interesting to watch with the former Ramada site is whether the new hotel seeks to have any conference space. Patel didn’t provide any details on that front, but he said several things that made it clear the firm is trying to gauge how much conference business can be had in Lawrence.
In other news and notes from around town:
• This one slipped under my radar, but The Oread hotel landed on a nice list last month. The hotel was ranked as the No. 22 best college hotel by the website College Rank, which provides information to students and parents on college choices. The Bluemont Hotel in Manhattan was ranked No. 11 on the list. The No. 1 college hotel is the Washington Duke Inn, which has three restaurants, an 18-hole golf course, a AAA four-diamond rating, but does have one drawback that seemingly can’t be overcome. It is at Duke University.
• Some readers have asked for an update on what the new construction is next to the Comfort Inn at McDonald Drive and Princeton Boulevard. As we have reported, that’s set to be a small warehouse complex. Plans filed in September showed four buildings on the site, ranging from about 17,000 square feet to 3,100 square feet. Lawrence-based architect Paul Werner previously told me that the space will accommodate, in part, some businesses that are part of Lawrence’s Fritzel construction entities, such as a cabinet shop, a rock business and other types of construction firms. I suspect some of the warehouse space also could be available for overflow storage for industrial firms that are in the area. It is always possible the plans have changed a bit, and if I hear anything new, I’ll let you know.
Update on future of former Ramada Inn site; gasoline prices ahead of holiday weekend, and why Lawrence envies Topeka
If you have booked your mother-in-law to stay in Lawrence’s Ramada Inn this Labor Day weekend, good for you. Bad for your mother-in-law. In case you haven’t noticed, the former Ramada Inn property at Sixth and Iowa streets is largely torn down.
I’ve been getting several questions about what the future holds for the large, well-situated property. As we reported in April, Lawrence-based Williams Management bought the run-down property from an East Coast bank. Adam Williams, leader of the local development group, said then that he would tear the building down and then look for redevelopment opportunities.
I talked with Williams again this week, and he said interest in the property has been strong, but he’s not yet able to announce a redevelopment plan. Williams said he’s been in discussions with other parties who are interested in redeveloping the site, and he believes something will be “coming down the line soon.”
“It is a very, very good bet that it won’t be a vacant lot for long,” Williams said.
In April, Williams told me the commercial zoning of the property makes it well suited for a variety of uses such as an office building, a retail development or even a gas station. Williams said he didn’t see redevelopment plans focusing on apartments. Williams this week said that’s still the case.
Williams said he’s still open to talking with other parties about potential developments for the property, but he thinks there will be plans filed for the site in about the next 60 days.
The site will be one to keep an eye on. It is unique to have nearly four acres of vacant, commercially zoned land at one of the busier intersections of the community.
“It is kind of a gateway to Lawrence in a lot of ways,” Williams said. “Coming off the turnpike, it is one of the first things you are going to come across.”
As for the status of the demolition at the site, Williams said there is one small wall that needs to come down on the property, but some utilities need to be moved before that work can be finished in the next few days.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Maybe you are driving to see your mother-in-law this holiday weekend. If so, figure out how to drive through Topeka, and I’m not just recommending it so you can fill your nostrils with the beautiful smell of Kansas politics. Instead, fill your tank with cheap gas.
Gas in Topeka is selling for an average of $2.16 a gallon, according to the Daily Fuel Gauge Report by AAA. In Lawrence, the average price per gallon is about $2.45, according to the same report. I don’t know what happens in the approximately 30 miles between Lawrence and Topeka that causes gas to be so much cheaper in the Capital City. Despite popular belief, perhaps the Statehouse isn’t sitting on a pocket of hot air, but rather cheap oil. I don’t know. Or maybe Topeka isn’t run by the governor but rather is secretly controlled by oil tycoon Jed Clampett.
Again, I don’t know, but several readers have called to complain about the discrepancy in recent days. The fact that Topeka has cheaper gas than Lawrence isn’t anything new, but the discrepancy has grown a bit. Last year at this time, the average gasoline price was $3.37 a gallon in Lawrence, but $3.20 in Topeka — a difference of 17 cents or about 5 percent. Today, the difference in price is 32 cents or about 15 percent.
Such price differences frequently lead to accusations of collusion by gas station owners in Lawrence. I don’t know. I’ve never found any evidence of that, but then again, all my efforts to go undercover in the Lawrence convenience store industry have been thwarted when I become too distracted by the Slurpee machine.
I think a more interesting question to ask is whether there is something about Lawrence that causes us to pay a premium to live here? Local real estate prices for a long time have suggested there is something to this idea of a Lawrence premium. Home prices here are consistently higher than in several other communities, especially when you compare home prices to average incomes. That’s true even when you factor out low-wage earning students. Someday, I will postulate a theory about all of this, but at the moment, I have a Slurpee cup to refill.
Regardless, you may want to know more about gasoline prices in the state and region ahead of this traditionally busy travel weekend. Here’s a look from AAA:
— Statewide average: $2.34
— Lawrence: $2.45
— Kansas City, Kan.: $2.42
— Topeka: $2.16
— Wichita: $2.24
— Kansas City, Mo.: $2.15
— Denver: $2.70
— Oklahoma City: $2.25
— Omaha: $2.61
— National average: $2.42
Former Ramada Inn property at Sixth and Iowa to be razed for redevelopment; announcement expected soon on new tenant for BTBC
Keep your eyes open for a major change of scenery at Sixth and Iowa. Plans are in the works to demolish the former Ramada Inn building that sits just north and west of the busy intersection.
The building has not served as a Ramada for a long time, and housed a litany of other hotel chains in recent years. It recently closed, and a new ownership group plans to demolish the building in mid-May.
Lawrence-based Williams Management has bought the property from an East Coast bank. Adam Williams, leader of the development group, told me he doesn’t yet have specific plans for the nearly four-acre property. He is in discussions, though, with various groups. He said he became interested in the property because its commercial zoning allows for a number of uses. He said a new hotel is a possibility, as is an office building, retail development or even a gas station.
“We feel like we have a lot of options,” said Williams. “We really like the corner and the location.”
Williams — who is the developer who built the new Capital City Bank building and medical office building at Sixth and Folks Road — said the group had no interest in keeping the current building.
“It had become a tired hotel,” Williams said. “The property is in need of a change. I think the community will be glad to see it.”
Williams said an auction will be held May 3 to auction off the contents of the building, and then demolition is likely to begin a few weeks later. Williams said he hopes to have a more definitive plan about how to redevelop the property this summer.
“I don’t think it will be long until we identify what will happen with the property,” Williams said.
In other news and notes from around town:
• While we’re talking about properties at busy intersections to keep an eye on, it appears the Phoggy Dog at 2228 Iowa St. falls into that category. The longtime bar appears to be closed, although I’ve struggled to confirm that. I’ve had patrons email me that the establishment closed last week. I’ve tried to get in touch with the business operator, but have had no luck. I did go by the establishment last night and it was closed, although there weren’t any signs explaining whether there were plans to reopen. So take it for what it is worth.
For those of you not up on your current bar locations, the Phoggy Dog is in the shopping center on the northeast corner of 23rd and Iowa streets. For a long time the location was the home of King Arthur’s, which I’m pretty sure was a monarch in the 1990s who was almost entirely funded by proceeds from my ATM account.
Anyway, it is another prominent location that may be up for a change in scenery, although you would think another bar use is likely, given that the location is within walking distance of the Daisy Hill dormitories.
• I’m hearing there is going to be a positive announcement on the Lawrence economic development front. I believe a new tenant is going to be announced at the Bioscience and Technology Business Center on KU’s West Campus on Monday. My understanding is it may be a company looking to locate its headquarters here, and may be in the health field. Obviously, I’m still gathering information on this. I don’t have any word on how many employees the firm may employ, but the BTBC site is an incubator facility, so usually companies are on the smaller side with strong growth potential and good professional-level jobs. We should learn all the details on Monday.
Monday's announcement is not related to work that local economic development leaders have been doing to bring the first tenant to the new Lawrence VenturePark. But Larry McElwain, president and CEO of the chamber, told me that work is still continuing to go well. McElwain previously has said the community is in the running to land a large manufacturer that would occupy about 120 acres at the park and would employ about 125 people over the next five years. No word on when Lawrence may learn about the future of that project, but it sounds like it is a project whose leaders are still actively considering Lawrence.
There's a new health trend coming to Lawrence, and I'm not talking about the popular vacuum/dust/clean-the-toilets workout that I've begun recently. (What? That's not a trend? My wife promised me she saw it on Dr. Oz.)
The CVS Pharmacy at 23rd and Iowa streets has just completed a $130,000 renovation to add a MinuteClinic to the store's operations. If you are not familiar with the concept, MinuteClinics are part of the emerging trend of retail health clinics, where patients can walk in and see a nurse practitioner or a physician's assistant without an appointment.
The concept certainly isn't new. Walgreens has its own version of a walk-in clinic at its Sixth and Kasold store, and there are Lawrence businesses such as First Med and PromptCare that have similar, albeit larger, concepts of the walk-in clinic.
But I thought this one was worth mentioning because there are several people in the health world making predictions that these clinics will become all the rage once the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented.
The corporate research firm Accenture is predicting that the number of U.S. retail health clinics will double over the next three years to just under 3,000 total. The retail health clinics were a big trend from 2003 to 2008, but then their growth just stalled. Now, health care experts predict that the walk-in clinics will be a key "release valve" for the health care system as people who currently are uninsured gain insurance and start using the health care system with greater frequency.
CVS and Walgreens are the two largest players nationally in the walk-in clinic business, but Target also has some significant growth plans for walk-in clinics, according to the information I've read.
I'm not sure how local health care providers are viewing the situation, but once upon a time, the clinics were seen as a threat to traditional doctors' offices. But Accenture officials say their research now finds most primary care physicians and hospitals view the clinics as a key component of handling the rush that is expected with Obamacare. There are still some with concerns, especially on the quality front. This report highlights how some physicians are concerned that a proliferation of walk-in clinics will create a two-tiered health care system, where people with money will see doctors and people without as much money will see nurse practitioners. Plus, there have been some concerns raised that the clinics that are based inside pharmacies will have too great of an incentive to over-prescribe medication. It is not clear, though, that the data backs up that concern.
As for the new CVS clinic, information from the company says it will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Sunday. The clinic uses nurse practitioners to provide treatment, and it takes cases related to common family illnesses such as colds, the flu, ear aches, sinus infections, minor wounds, sprains and other such issues. Most forms of health insurance are accepted, and the cost for most treatments start at $79, according to the company.
In other news and notes from around town:
• People have been asking me what is going on with the former El Mezcal Mexican restaurant location in the shopping center at Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa Drive. Well, I've gotten word from the leasing agent for the center that another Mexican restaurant is set to go into the space. Tres Mexicanos plans to open a second Lawrence location. The new restaurant will be in addition to its current one in the shopping center at 23rd and Harper streets. I hope to get more information and pass it along.
• The hotel market has been an active one in Lawrence recently, and perhaps there is another change on the horizon. It appears that the former Ramada Inn property at 2222 W. Sixth St., or basically Sixth and Iowa streets, is up for sale. The commercial real estate service LoopNet sends me a list of the 10 most popular commercial real estate listings in the state, and the 110-room hotel/restaurant property checked in at No. 4 this week. It is a highly-visible piece of property in town, so it may be one worth watching.
• Area residents have one less place to take out their frustrations and get a workout all at once. Punch Boxing + Fitness has closed its Lawrence location in the shopping center at Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive. I checked out the location, and it is empty, with no signs about what the future holds for the space. According to its Web site, there is still a Punch Boxing + Fitness location in Shawnee. If I get any word from the owners about the Lawrence location and existing memberships, I'll pass it along.
As for people looking for a new high-intensity workout, I have heard of this new trendy one . . . I can loan you a toilet brush.