Hotel looking more likely as part of KU’s gateway project near football stadium; Girod hopes for town hall meetings soon

photo by: Nick Krug

An aerial shot from the east of David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium in 2017.

The University of Kansas is getting more serious about adding a hotel next to its football stadium as part of a larger gateway project that would try to make the area a destination for conventions.

Chancellor Douglas Girod also confirmed in a brief interview that KU is in formal discussions with the University of Kansas Health System and LMH Health about locating a joint health care venture — featuring sports medicine care but perhaps other types of care too — at the gateway project that KU plans to develop around the football stadium at 11th and Mississippi streets.

The idea that those two health care companies might be eyeing the gateway project has been speculated on for a while, but this is the first public acknowledgement of it.

What may come as more of a surprise is the idea for a hotel on the site. KU, since announcing the project last fall, has been highlighting the idea of building new space into a revamped football stadium that could host conferences and events of several hundred people.

KU certainly has acknowledged that type of use could lead to a hotel development at some point in the future, but this week Girod said the idea of event space and a hotel seemingly are becoming more linked all the time.

“It is hard to have a convention center without a hotel and hard to have a hotel without the convention center,” Girod said of some of the findings of a preliminary feasibility study KU has received on the gateway project.

That study hasn’t yet been completed, and thus hasn’t yet been publicly released, but Girod said the idea of locating a conference/convention center at the location has received very high marks in the preliminary feasibility study.

“Very, very positive on that,” Girod said of the finding. “And really very positive on the hotel facility. There is some refinement around the size of that (hotel) and how it directly relates to the conference center.”

Girod stopped short of saying that a hotel would definitely be part of the gateway project, but he said KU is in the process of talking with hotel operators.

“We are not in the hotel business,” Girod said. “We need to find a good hotel partner. What we are hearing from the consultants is that when they have sort of flown that balloon is how important the convention part is to a hotel partner.”

Girod said he hopes to begin releasing more definitive plans soon for the gateway project. He said he would like to start having community meetings about the gateway project in the next couple of months.

“We anticipate being in a position to start some community conversations, town halls and that kind of stuff with neighborhoods and others, hopefully before we get to the end of this academic year,” Girod said.

Any project that moves forward on the KU property will be a bit unique in how it wins approval. Since the envisioned site is on state-owned land around the stadium, it will not go through the normal approval process involving the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission and the City Commission. Instead, according to a KU-city cooperation agreement, the project would be subject to a review through an ad-hoc committee that would have representatives from nearby properties, adjacent neighborhood associations and city and KU officials.

The project would be a large one for any group to review. KU has estimated the project — which will include major upgrades to David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium — will cost more than $300 million. KU last month won a $50 million state economic development grant to help with the project, and KU Endowment has made a commitment to either raise $150 million in donations for the project or provide the funding out of the endowment’s existing funds.

At those prices, it would be one of the largest projects undertaken by KU. Girod has labeled the project as critical to KU’s strategy to attract new students, ensure the university’s standing in a Power Five athletic conference and make the KU campus more of a destination for events and other economic activity that will help both the university and the state.

The football stadium upgrades, the conference/convention center space, and now a hotel are receiving the most attention from planners currently. But when I asked Girod whether there are other elements under consideration, he mentioned a potential concert/entertainment venue that would be in addition to the conference/convention space.

“We have different-size spaces in Lawrence, whether it is the Lied Center, Granada or Liberty Hall, but there is a middle-size space there that isn’t being served,” Girod said. “There is some conversation around that, but it is not too well fleshed out yet.”

As for the idea of medical office space on the site, Girod said he was optimistic that a sports medicine facility would be part of the project. LMH Health and the KU Health System announced a joint venture this week that calls for new sports medicine services to be provided by the two health systems. It plans to be partially located on the KU campus with a location at Watkins Health Services.

Girod said he’s hopeful those services ultimately will be offered at the gateway project next to the stadium, and he’s encouraging the two parties to study the feasibility of also locating other health care services that would be convenient to faculty and staff members at KU.

“I would like to see it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will work,” Girod said. “I think it would be nice for our community, though.”


Welcome to the new Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.