Efforts to attract a developer to build an “upscale branded hotel” on the Kansas State Fairgrounds will start rolling in the new state fiscal year starting July 1.
“This could be a big game-changer for the State Fair,” State Fair Board President Virginia Crossland-Macha said during a fair board retreat that wrapped up Wednesday in a conference room at Lowen Corp., Hutchinson.
The board approved without dissent the outline for a request for qualifications/proposals for a hotel. The plan envisions:
The hotel would be constructed south of the Meadowlark Building, east of Main Street and north of East 20th Avenue.
The developer would be responsible for financing, construction, operation, and maintenance of the hotel.
The State Fair would agree to a long-term ground lease. It also would seek a guaranteed base rent, subject to an annual escalation.
In addition, the State Fair would seek a percentage of gross revenues produced by room sales, and food and beverage sales.
The hotel would be subject to property taxes.
State Fair General Manager Robin Jennison said he will talk with the Kansas Department of Administration officials after July 1 about how the process will work. That agency would issue the request and receive the responses.
If the fair board only has one person on the team reviewing the responses, Jennison is dubious about the outcome. He would like to see at least one person from the fair board and one person from the Hutchinson community on the review team.
Kansas Department of Administration staff will be looking at the proposals, but they really don’t have that desire for a hotel here, he said. He wants people with a vested interest in seeing a hotel in Hutchinson on the review committee, he said.
The location could be considered a weak choice for a hotel because it is not on a highway, he said. On the other hand, the fairgrounds bring in more than 500 events a year and the hotel would be adjacent to about 80,000 square feet of exhibition space because of the Meadowlark/Sunflower building complex. If the hotel also was connected to the Pride of Kansas building, that would boost the exhibition space to over 100,000 square feet, Jennison said.
The city of Hutchinson also is laying the groundwork for a hotel/convention center.
“It’s not a competing process,” City Manager John Deardoff said. He was not familiar with the details of the State Fair’s plan, but when told of the State Fair’s timeline, he thought its hotel plan was moving on a faster track than the city's project. The State Fair has the land for its project, Deardoff noted, while the city does not have a site for a developer.
The outline approved by the fair board listed Nov. 25 as the deadline for a developer to respond to the request for qualifications/proposals. The state would evaluate the responses from Nov. 26 to Dec. 20. The state could enter into an exclusive negotiating agreement with the highest-scoring development team by Jan. 6, 2020. Jennison said those deadlines were "place-holders" and tentative.
Jennison said he patterned some of the language in the request for qualifications/proposals from a document used by a county fair in California. He couldn’t remember the name of the county but said it was a smaller one, and he spoke to officials there about a similar fairgrounds hotel project.
Expo, Bison, Grandstand
The fair board also voted to move forward with an estimated $1.2 million in repairs — including roof replacement — to the Expo Center. Final action will be taken at the board’s July 2 meeting.
A dedicated sales tax revenue stream for capital improvement projects will help finance the Expo work. The building could be shut down as of Oct. 1, to allow for several months of construction work.
Two more expensive projects loom.
Repairs to The Bison Arena could range up to $8 million to $9 million. The cost for major upgrades to the Grandstand area would hinge on how it was redesigned.
The Grandstand is a revenue-generator for the fairgrounds. Board member Matt Lowen said the State Fair probably could increase the quality of the acts it books with an improved Grandstand. The Bison, however, is an iconic building on the fairgrounds and the one state legislators voice the most interest in, according to Crossland-Macha.
Jennison told the board the State Fair could request next year that the Legislature bond for improvements to Bison.
“I think we should make the ask,” he said.
Crossland-Macha speculated the State Fair could go to the Legislature and ask for funding for both projects.
“I think it ought to be a reasonable ask,” Jennison said.