Plans for 60-bed drug and alcohol treatment center moving ahead; construction likely in April

photo by: Paul Werner Architects

A rendering shows plans for converting the current Super 8 motel at 801 Iowa St. into a drug and alcohol treatment center.

A multimillion-dollar project to rehabilitate an old Iowa Street motel into a detox and substance abuse treatment center is scheduled to begin in April, developers of the project have confirmed.

We reported in September that Lawrence restaurateur David Hawley and Eudora construction company owner Aaron Thakker had reached a deal to purchase the Super 8 motel at 801 Iowa St. and convert it into an extended stay facility that will provide drug and alcohol treatment.

The project’s rezoning request won a unanimous recommendation from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission in October, but the project hasn’t appeared before the Lawrence City Commission for its final approval. That had created some concern from observers about whether the project was still on track.

Hawley and Thakker on Wednesday said the delay is not a sign of problems for the development. Rather, the developers asked the city to delay final approval so that the motel could continue to operate up until the time construction is set to begin on April 1.

If anything, the project has gained momentum since it became public in September, the pair said.

“When this came out, we immediately had people from the court system contacting us saying we have people who want to meet, who want to learn more,” Thakker said.

The developers also have had very positive discussions with multiple nonprofit agencies in the community, including LMH Health, Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center and DCCCA.

“We have communicated with everybody that we want to create a community of recovery here,” Hawley said.

Nonetheless, the project is not an ordinary one, even by drug and alcohol treatment center standards. Private, for-profit treatment facilities have become more common as insurance companies have begun covering the costs of such services more frequently. But many of the new private facilities are being built by larger companies, often with other holdings in the health care industry.

Hawley’s background is in the restaurant business, including as an owner of the Papa Keno’s pizzeria enterprise. Thakker owns a construction business that does a lot of commercial remodeling work in the region. Neither has been an executive in the health care world.

But both said they are bringing passion and experiences to the project that are unique. Hawley is a recovering addict, a process he began 20 years ago.

“I’m in a unique position to understand what my clients and patients are going through,” Hawley said of future users of the treatment facility. “Truly, after having gone through this for 20 years, I believe I can give them a better chance for success and a foundation.”

He said the new center would incorporate several ideas that recovering addicts either benefited from or wish were available to them when they were at a center. That will include everything from yoga and meditation activities to help clients to “unplug from that what is going on outside” to a full fitness facility with trainers to help clients feel physically better as they go through recovery.

He also said the center’s staff of 45 to 50 people will include a lot of peer counselors, who often will be individuals who are successfully in recovery. He said that is a key principle behind programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, which often talks of “one alcoholic working with another.”

“They’re able to honestly say, ‘I know what you did. I did the same thing, but look at me. I’m OK,'” Hawley said. “It gives them hope that they’re going to be OK too. That is the rocket fuel to recovery.”

Thakker said he became interested in the project after seeing throughout his life the problems that occur when parents are addicted. He became an active volunteer at the Lawrence Community Shelter after learning how many children were at that homeless shelter, and he now is involved heavily with Lawrence’s Family Promise organization and its efforts to house homeless families.

“I know how important it was for me to have that one positive adult when I was a kid,” Thakker said. “I want to help those parents be that person for their kids. That’s why I do this.”

The pair provided several other details about the project. They include:

• The center will operate under the name Avalon Wellness & Recovery Center. With construction scheduled to begin April 1, the center hopes to open about four months later.

• The center, which is being designed by Lawrence-based Paul Werner Architects, will have 20 single-occupancy rooms and 20 double-occupancy rooms, meaning up to 60 people could be living at the facility at a time.

• The facility will devote about 10 beds at any given time to its detox operations, which will involve intense supervision from medical staff members while clients are going through the often painful physical withdrawal symptoms of drug or alcohol abuse. The remaining 50 beds will be for individuals who already have completed the detox stage of recovery. Those individuals usually will stay at the center for approximately one month, where they will begin learning how to create new life habits built around abstaining from drugs and alcohol.

• The center will be a for-profit operation that primarily receives payment from private insurance companies. However, Hawley said the center would go through the process to accept Medicare and Medicaid, but will have to limit the number of beds for those government insurance programs to keep the finances of the operation feasible.

• The pair has not announced a price tag for the new facility, other than to say it is a multimillion-dollar project. On Wednesday, they said they had a strong group of private investors and that the project was on good financial footing to move forward.

“It is super expensive, but if you have the right people involved, it will work out,” Thakker said.

• Hawley and Thakker, who have employed consultants to help with the creation of the center, are in the process of hiring its medical director and other staff members. Once a medical director is in place, the center will be able to go through its 90-day application period for a state license.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

The Super 8 motel is pictured in August 2023.


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.