New dealership to sell tractors, mowers, ATVs at former site of Airport Motel; old roadside motel buildings to be razed

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

The Airport Motel along U.S. Highway 40 near the Lawrence Municipal Airport has closed.

A tractor isn’t going to win many races against an airplane, but indeed tractors are going to have the final victory at the Airport Motel property in North Lawrence. A new dealership of tractors, lawn mowers and other outdoor equipment is expected to locate at the longtime motel site this fall.

Who knows, a tractor might even help push down the last vestiges of the 1950s roadside motel.

A family connected to a Valley Falls implement dealer plans to open Heinen Outdoor Power Equipment at the site of the now-closed Airport Motel, which is on U.S. Highway 24/40, basically just south and west of the Lawrence Municipal Airport.

The new implement dealership won’t be selling the big tractors and combines that you often see in Kansas River bottom fields surrounding the dealership’s site, but rather will focus on smaller tractors needed by a larger audience — rural homeowners.

“The 10- to 20-acre rural homeowner, that is who we serve best,” Chantel Heinen, an owner of the soon-to-be Lawrence business, said.

The business has secured a deal to be authorized dealers of Mahindra tractors, Ferris zero-turn riding lawn mowers, Hustler turf equipment and lawn mowers and several other brands. Those are many of the same brands that the family’s Heinen Repair Service in Valley Falls has sold for years.

Heinen said the Valley Falls business, which is about 40 miles north of Lawrence, has long attracted a number of customers from Douglas County, Tonganoxie and the Basehor-Linwood area. She said the customer base had grown large enough that they were confident that they could add even more customers if they had a store in the Lawrence area.

“We get a lot of questions about why isn’t Ferris in Lawrence,” Heinen said of the mower brand. “Homeowners absolutely love those mowers because they ride really nice.”

photo by: Submitted photo

A Ferris zero-turn riding lawn mower.

Heinen said the business also expects to have dealership agreements finalized before opening that will allow it to sell certain brands of utility vehicles and all-terrain vehicles, such as four-wheelers, utility carts and other similar vehicles.

The business will include a full service shop to provide repairs on all types of outdoor equipment, she said.

A longtime Douglas County agricultural family also has a connection to the new business. A group led by Brian Pine owns the property and will construct a new building on the site and serve as landlord for the business. Pine’s family, which farmed large amounts of the surrounding Kansas River valley for generations, operates a landscaping center just south of the property.

Pine said he sees some synergies between his family’s landscape business — which attracts lots of people who are looking for rock, mulch and other items for their yards — and the new dealership, which is expected to do a lot of business with homeowners.

“But really we are just happy to help bring another family-owned business to the area,” Pine said. “That really matches up with our mentality and our way of life. We consider the Heinens good friends and good people, and they have a really longtime family name in the business community in the Valley Falls area.”

The approximately 2.5-acre property at 1493 U.S. Highway 40 long has been zoned for commercial uses. The property also recently received site plan approval from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department and the County Commission to house agricultural sales and repair services.

Those plans call for a 4,800-square-foot building to be constructed on the site. They also call for the three hotel buildings to be razed. That’s a change in plans from what we had last reported. We reported in August that a Pine group purchased the Airport Motel property but didn’t yet have specific plans for the site. However, Pine at that time said he planned to keep at least one and maybe two of the old hotel buildings. In February, when he filed a set of plans for an implement dealership, those plans included renovating two of the three buildings.

But this week, Pine said construction experts determined the condition of the buildings was worse than expected, and the costs to save and rehabilitate them would be prohibitive. The new plans call for sales, service and indoor showroom space to be located in the single new building on the site. Much of the motel property will be returned to a grassy area, which will serve as outdoor showroom space. That’s also expected to help stormwater issues — always a concern in flood-prone North Lawrence — because there will be less pavement on the site.

The demolition of the Airport Motel buildings, though, will wipe away a longtime North Lawrence fixture, Pine, whose family has lived on land next to the motel site for generations, said his father estimated the motel had been on the property since the early 1950s.

“It would have been fun to reclaim a couple of those buildings, but we have to do what financially makes sense,” Pine said.

Pine said he hopes to have construction on the site completed in September, but he said delays in construction material might push the opening to later in the fall.


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