City approves development for ‘Lot 9’

By Burk Krohe

After more than a year of discussion, debate and analysis, the project to be developed on “Lot 9” in the south end redevelopment area is ready to move forward. The City Commission approved development plans for the site on a split 4-1 vote at Tuesday’s meeting.

The plans call for breaking the site, a roughly 4-acre plot just north of forth Riley Boulevard, into six smaller lots that will be developed piece by piece. A Candlewood Suites will sit on Lot 1, a Holiday Inn Express will sit on Lot 2 and a mixed-use building with plans for residential and retail uses will sit on Lot 3. Lots 4,5 and 6 will be parking lots that correspond to the other lots. Flint Hills Square, a local development firm consisting of Colin Noble, a local hotelier, and Gwyn Riffel, a local developer, is developing the project.

Commissioners approved the overall preliminary development plan and the final development plan for the Candlewood Suites and its corresponding parking lot, but the decision still came with concerns about the character of the development, parking and competition among hotels. The concerns have been constant throughout the site’s development process.

Previously, the Manhattan Urban Area Planning Board forwarded a recommendation of approval for the development plan with one condition. Board members were concerned about plans for a drive-in restaurant in the mixed-use building. Several members felt such an establishment would not fit into the character the city has worked to cultivate in the south end.

Riffel responded by amending the plan to restrict the drive-in restaurant use located at the east end of the mixed use building to “a coffee and bakery restaurant use.” Commissioner Rich Jankovich said he believes the change adequately addresses the Planning Board’s concerns.

Jim Wright, a former local restaurant manager, expressed frustration and concern over the development, particularly in regard to competition with existing hotels and parking.

“I don’t know how we even got to this point,” Wright said. “These things can sound like a good idea unless you’re the current owner of a competing business.”

Wright said he doesn’t like the idea of the city “supporting a competing entity” over existing businesses. Officials from HCW, the firm that developed the Hilton Garden Inn and Conference Center located in the south end, have also repeatedly objected to putting two hotels in the south end. They said it will drive down occupancy at other hotels, including their own, and noted the original intent was to develop the site with entertainment purposes in mind—a goal they feel the Commission strayed from.

“Now suddenly we’re looking at a development that we’re just acknowledging that it’s not going to have enough parking,” Wright said. “How did the rules change depending on what entity is involved and what the scope is?”

Commissioner Loren Pepperd said he agreed with everything Wright said. Pepperd has consistently said the city should not act as a developer and was the dissenting vote on those grounds.

“We are where we are right now,” Commissioner John Matta said. “I agree with you I’m not really a fan of the city getting involved in development work.”

Mayor Jim Sherow disagreed with the assertion that the city is acting as a developer. Sherow said the commission facilitated the means of development and the guidelines for it to occur, which in his mind, is different from actually developing the site.

Speaking to Wright’s concerns about competition, Commissioner Wynn Butler noted that Noble’s hotels initially were to be developed at a different location, which means they would have been in the community regardless.

“The hotels are going to be here,” Butler said.

Matta added that almost anything the city brings in will compete with an existing business. He also said it’s important to develop the site because it’s “what will pay our bonds.” Sherow said the Hilton is already becoming “an engine of economic returns to the core downtown,” and the Lot 9 development will aid that.

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