I don’t know what it means when a community’s top building projects are hotels and churches, but that’s the case thus far in Lawrence in 2017.
It has been awhile since we have looked at the city’s building totals, but there’s a new report out at City Hall that measures building activity through August. In a nutshell, it is not as robust as it has been the past couple of years. But remember, 2015 and 2016 were two of the best building years in the city’s history.
Thus far, city officials have issued building permits for $96.5 million worth of projects. At this time last year the city had issued permits for $145.5 million worth of projects and in 2015 it was at $187.8 million in new construction.
This year’s total is still pretty good historically. Dating back to 2009, this year’s total is the fourth highest, trailing only the two years mentioned above and 2013.
The largest project of the year, thus far, is one that people just now are starting to see come out of the ground near Sixth and Wakarusa. City officials have issued permits for a $4 million Tru by Hilton hotel at 510 Wakarusa Drive.
We reported on the Tru by Hilton back in December when plans were filed with the city. As a reminder, plans call for the building to be four stories tall and have 82 guest rooms. The hotel will be a bit of a different one. The Tru brand dubs itself as the place where “cost-conscious meets cool conscious.” (I always thought that meant wearing the $2.99 aviator sunglasses from the convenience store, but Tru may have a different idea.) As for how the hotel will be cool, look for a more modern flair in design, furniture and a lobby that is hiply called a “Hive.”
The second largest project in the city also is a hotel. The city has issued permits for $3.9 million in construction for a Country Inn & Suites hotel at 2176 E. 23rd St., where Don’s Steakhouse used to be. (Ah, Don’s. I don’t know if it was cost-conscious meeting cool-conscious, but I do miss briefly losing consciousness after eating about a half-dozen twice-baked potatoes at Don’s.) That hotel will be an 89-room extended-stay property. The project is well underway, with crews currently installing the exterior stone and other finishes on the building.
The third and fourth largest projects in town are both churches. Construction work began recently on Connect Church at 31st and Iowa. As we have reported, that’s the church that used to be known as Lawrence Wesleyan Church and is selling its church facility at 3705 Clinton Parkway to a group that will redevelop it as an office building. The city has issued a building permit for $3.6 million for the Connect Church.
An addition at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, 1208 Kentucky St., is the fourth largest project in the city. The city has issued $3 million in building permits for a project that is adding a gymnasium and a performing arts center. You’ll be able to judge for yourself how big the addition is if you go to St. John’s popular Oktoberfest this weekend, although a certain German beverage has been known to distort judgments.
Even though it is not a church or a hotel, I might as well report on project No. 5, which in some ways is the most exciting. The city has issued $2.8 million in permits for a renovation at the Bioscience and Technology Business Center. As we reported in June, KU is converting the basement level of the BTBC building on West Campus into a multimillion dollar, high security clearance laboratory.
The hope is that the National Security Laboratory will enable KU scientists to do more research for the Department of Defense and other U.S. government agencies. If you are scoring at home, we want Department of Defense folks on campus these days, not the FBI.
The Department of Defense work could be very lucrative. KU currently does about $1 million a year in research related to the Department of Defense. With the laboratory in place, KU believes it could see that total grow to about $20 million within three years.
One last bit of building permit news, despite real estate agents continually talking about a shortage of homes on the market, builders have not responded with a surge in single-family home construction. In fact, the number of single family and duplex home permits is down a bit from last year. Thus far, the city has issued 118 permits, compared with 123 during the same period a year ago. This year’s total is also down from 170 permits that were issued through August of 2015.
Maybe builders aren’t constructing as many homes, but they are building some really big ones. The city already has issued three permits this year for homes that cost more than $1 million. The top one is a $1.75 million property in the 1700 block of Lake Alvamar Drive. There’s also a pair of $1.2 million homes: one in the 100 block of N. Wilderness Way and another in the 200 block of Running Ridge Road. Both of those are in the Fall Creek Farms development near Peterson Road and Monterey Way.
A Hilton hotel planned for west Lawrence; Eldridge files plans for outdoor expansion; signs of a new doughnut shop downtown
All-you-can-eat doughnuts, a pool table, free Wi-Fi and a host of other amenities all across the street from Free State High School: It sounds like a heck of a teacher’s lounge. Or maybe it just sounds like the plans for a new Hilton hotel in Lawrence. (That noise you heard was a teacher throwing an apple against the wall.)
Indeed, Lawrence City Hall has received a plan for a new Hilton hotel to be built in west Lawrence, but this may not be the type of Hilton you are used to. Plans call for a hotel dubbed Tru by Hilton. (The English teacher threw another apple over that spelling.) It is a relatively new concept for Hilton. It dubs the hotel as a place where you can discover “what cost-conscious meets cool-conscious looks like.” From what I’ve seen, the brand uses quite a bit of modern design and hip phrases, like calling its lobby a “Hive.”
More on the concept in a moment, but first some basics about the project. The hotel is slated for the vacant lot at the corner of Wakarusa Drive and Overland Drive, or, in other words, the property that is just north of the tunnel car wash business. That puts it basically across the street from Free State. Plans call for the hotel to be four stories, include 82 guest rooms and an outdoor recreation area, which I assume will include a pool and other amenities.
The project will be part of the Bauer Farm development, and, at the moment, would be the most western hotel in the city. Bill Fleming, an attorney for the Bauer Farm development, said hotel developers became more interested in the Bauer Farm project after the Rock Chalk Park sports complex opened about one mile to the west in far northwest Lawrence.
“It is the type of activity that we thought would be spurred by Rock Chalk Park, and now we are seeing it,” Fleming said. “I think Bauer Farm is a good area for it. It has some shopping, it has the community theater, it has quite a few amenities nearby.”
The project, though, serves as a good reminder of the uphill battle developers are facing to bring commercial development to the area near Rock Chalk Park. The property adjacent to Rock Chalk Park has been zoned for commercial development for years, but has remained vacant, even though Rock Chalk Park is attracting good crowds. It is difficult to get a business to take the risk and expense associated with being the first to locate at a site. Some people have thought a hotel would be the first to take that chance, but not yet.
The development group behind the Tru by Hilton is an Ardmore, Okla.-based company called Apollo Hospitality, according to the development plan filed at City Hall. According to its website, it looks like the company has about five hotels in Oklahoma and Texas.
As for the concept behind a Tru by Hilton, it looks intriguing. I don’t believe that there is a Tru by Hilton in Kansas yet. I found on Hilton’s website where one is under construction near the Oklahoma City airport. No guarantees that the Lawrence one will be exactly like that one, but let’s take a look anyway.
As I mentioned earlier, the hotel calls its lobby a Hive. It features a breakfast area that includes a “topping bar” that has 30 “sweet, savory and healthy ways to sprinkle your food with personality.” The hive also includes a lounge area, a market to buy snacks and other items, and a game room, complete with a pool table. Here are some images from the hotel’s website.
And here is a look at what the exterior of the hotel in Oklahoma City is slated to look like. I haven’t seen a rendering for the Lawrence project, but they both are four-story facilities.
Oh yeah, there also are guest rooms. They’re touted as having 55-inch TVs, hardwood-like floors and extra large bathrooms, among other amenities.
The proposed site for the Lawrence hotel already is zoned commercial. The project just needs to receive final development plan approval from City Hall, which usually is just a technical approval related to site layout and such. No official word on a timeline for the project, but I would suspect construction wouldn’t begin until spring, at the earliest.
If the project does move forward, it would be just the latest news in Lawrence hotel development. As we have reported, Country Inn & Suites plans to build an 89-room extended stay hotel on the property previously occupied by Don’s Steakhouse near 23rd and O’Connell in eastern Lawrence. I also continue to hear that Candlewood Suites continues to be interested in building a hotel in Lawrence, perhaps near the Sixth and Iowa site that previously housed the Ramada Inn.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Add one more hotel project to the mix. I’m still gathering some details, but a plan has been filed to build a large outdoor seating area in the vacant lot next to the Eldridge Hotel in downtown Lawrence.
Over the years, the Eldridge has proposed to add rooms and amenities by undertaking a multimillion dollar expansion into the vacant lot, which is just south of the hotel. But those plans have not gotten off the ground.
Now, Lawrence-based architect Paul Werner has filed plans for a more modest expansion. This one calls for about a 2,700 square foot addition that would house an enlarged kitchen for the hotel’s restaurant, plus an area to house a number of outdoor dining tables that would have a view for people watching along Massachusetts Street.
If I’m reading the plans correctly, it looks like there would be space for about 20 outdoor tables, which probably would make it the largest outdoor dining area in downtown. It looks like the area also would have some nice landscaping.
I’ll work to get some more details from Werner and Eldridge officials after the holidays and pass them along. It will be interesting to see if the expanded kitchen is a sign of a major change to come in the offerings and concept behind the hotel’s Ten restaurant. I’ll let you know when I hear more.
• I also don’t have many details on this at the moment, but couldn’t let it sit through the holidays. A development permit filed at City Hall indicates a new doughnut place is coming to downtown. A sign permit has been filed for a business called Wake the Dead Donuts. It would be located at 918 Massachusetts St., which formerly housed Burger-Fi.
A doughnut shop is plenty intriguing, but a picture of the proposed sign took intrigue to a whole new level. The sign lists that the business will serve chicken, doughnuts and whiskey.
Trust me, I'm working to get more details on this one. If need be, I’ll even experiment with the concept myself.
• One last note of a housekeeping nature: Town Talk will be a bit sporadic for the next few days, as I will take some time off for the holidays. Merry Christmas and happy holidays.