Aggieville hotel advances with rezoning nod

By Burk Krohe

The Manhattan Urban Area Planning Board on Monday unanimously approved a plan to bring a hotel to the northeast corner of N. Manhattan Avenue and Bluemont Avenue.

Board members said the project is designed well and will complement Aggieville and the K-State campus.

“I think the bar has been set very high on this project,” said board member Mike Hill.

They also forwarded a separate recommendation that the hotel be included in the Aggieville Business Improvement District. Businesses in the district pay regular fees, which go toward maintenance and upkeep of the district. 

Tim Fitzgerald, president of the Aggieville Business Association, and Evan Tuttle, executive director of the Aggieville Business Association, supported the hotel and its inclusion in the Aggieville BID.

“We believe the patrons of the hotel will be patrons of Aggieville as well,” Fitzgerald said.

A different version of the project had previously come to board members, who approved it early this summer. However, the developer, Excel Group LLC, of Lawrence, had the opportunity to expand the scope of the project and was therefore required to bring it back to board members.

The original development plan called for a four-story hotel with 72 rooms, which would take the place of four two-story multiple family houses on the corner of N. Manhattan and Bluemont. The amended project calls for a four-story hotel with a partial fifth floor and 111 rooms. It will take the place of the four multiple family homes as well as a two-story 18 dwelling unit apartment building at 1212 Bluemont.

The partial fifth floor will have meeting spaces, and the ground floor will include two small retail spaces, a model hotel room, a fitness room and an indoor pool. The previous plan called for meeting and retail spaces but the other amenities are new to the project. As per board members’ previous requests, the building will have a mixed facade of limestone and red brick to match the character of the K-State campus and Aggieville respectively.

There will be structured parking on the north side of the building with access from N. Manhattan avenue and also a level of underground parking with access from the alley. The two lots will provide 123 off street parking spaces.

There was some concern over the number of parking spaces and the possibility for increased traffic congestion. But Steve Zilkie, senior planner, said the public works department found no significant challenges. Zilkie said parking will be tight occasionally, but Aggieville and the surrounding neighborhood may be used as overflow parking. Rob Ott, city engineer, also noted the city is set to begin projects that will increase the capacity of N. Manhattan Avenue at that intersection, reducing traffic congestion.

Gary Stith, board chair, had concerns about streetscaping.  “I appreciate that you’ve tried to help with the landscaping,” Stith said. “I would still wish to have seen some street trees.”

Andrew Suber, of Excel, said the firm had done its best to add trees, noting there will be birch trees planted in large decorative urns on the hotel’s property. Suber said the urns will allow the trees to grow, while protecting them from wear and tear.

“We’re really trying to develop that streetscape as much as we can on the private side,” Suber said.

Stith suggested the possibility of Excel funding a city effort to put in trees along the sidewalks.

“This is a good project that could actually be a great one,” Stith said.

Ott said besides the practical difficulties that arrangement might present, there’s just not enough room to add trees on public property in the area. He said it would eat up a significant portion of the sidewalk. Stith also suggested sidewalk pavers, preformed blocks on a prepared base that can be arranged in patterns, like those found in Aggieville, to tie the hotel into the surrounding area.

Mike Kratochvil, board member, said pavers would be difficult to maintain. Tuttle agreed based on his experience in Aggieville. Tuttle said the pavers located at the corners of the 12th Street and Moro Street intersection have been worn down and virtually destroyed.

Despite those hangups, Stith voted with the rest of the board members to recommend approval to the Manhattan City Commission, which has the final say.

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