|By Bill Wilson, The Wichita Eagle,
Kan.McClatchy-Tribune Business News
Sep. 6, 2006 - Missouri developer John Hammons thinks downtown Wichita could use another 350 hotel rooms.
The question is where.
Hammons still wants to build a 350-bed Embassy Suites hotel in downtown Wichita, despite Sedgwick County's decision to eliminate a hotel from the downtown arena footprint -- his first preference.
But the 5- to 10-acre sites necessary for a new hotel downtown are few and far between.
"I've got to be satisfied by the locations available," Hammons said. "It's all about the market first -- and it looks like the market is there -- and location second."
Developers say downtown Wichita needs between 300 and 500 more hotel rooms, strategically placed near Century II and the new downtown arena, to lure top-notch events.
But it won't be easy to find a home for Hammons' Embassy Suites or any other hotel downtown, said Ed Wolverton, president of the Wichita Downtown Development Corp.
"We don't have many sites that are 5 or 10 acres, already assembled, already under one ownership," he said. "It's more of a challenge to acquire this kind of land."
Large real estate tracts are scarce downtown, said Steve Martens of Grubb & Ellis/Martens Commercial Group.
"I don't know where you can find enough ground for a hotel downtown controlled by a person who's willing to sell," he said.
Those additional rooms are essential to make Wichita a prime convention and event attraction, said Dave Lopez, president of Downtown OKC, Oklahoma City's development group.
Oklahoma City will have seven hotels and 1,700 rooms within six blocks of its Bricktown retail development by the end of 2007. Wichita will need at least 1,500 downtown rooms to compete for events, Lopez said.
"The proximity to our attractions is critical," he said. "It helped us land the Big 12 men's and women's basketball tournaments. We won't have room for fans, but they insist on that many rooms for teams, media, administrators."
There are a few downtown sites where a large hotel could locate, said Wolverton and John Rolfe, president of the Greater Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau.
They include the old Allis Hotel site at Broadway and William, WaterWalk property, and land near the Hyatt.
Another site that isn't on the table -- but might be -- is the downtown Wichita library at 223 S. Main.
Mayor Carlos Mayans said if the library moves as part of a new master plan, the site could be used for a hotel.
"It's another thing we've had in the discussion about expanding our expo center," Mayans said. "If the library plans ever include moving from there, we could put a hotel there as part of the expo center."
Mayans said adding rooms to the Hyatt, including the addition of another tower of rooms, also has been discussed.
But others in the hospitality industry think downtown and Wichita are ready for whatever events might come.
"This town is close," said Wichita developer Jim Korroch, who's building the Courtyard by Marriott in Old Town. "There are enough rooms going up that it would be pretty tough to add rooms downtown. Every hotel impacts every other hotel in this town."
Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or firstname.lastname@example.org [mailto:email@example.com].
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