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Creating a Wow Factor

Tuesday, April 25, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Lisa Graham
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Wichita Sports Forum hosts youth sports tournaments upwards of 40 weekends a year.

Those events — many of them for basketball — attract teams and hundreds of people from across the country.


It’s a quick rise for the less than two-year-old sports venue near K-96 and Greenwich.


The full slate of tournaments brings with it the need for hotel rooms and lots of them, often for multiple nights.


Tymber Lee, president of The Lee Cos. and a Wichita Sports Forum developer, says the organization works with local hotels — particularly those in the northeast part of Wichita — to offer group rates and on cross promotion of the facilities.


The expansion of the youth sports industry in Wichita and a more concerted effort to promote tourism in general has made the city ripe for hotel development, observers say.


“Wichita has a lot of rooms and a lot of older rooms,” says Jeff Walenta, hospitality and investment advisor with Landmark Commercial Real Estate.


Hotel developers, he says, are responding to needs they have identified in the market by adding hotel capacity in growing areas of town, such as northeast and northwest Wichita.


National hotel companies expanding their line-up of flags, with brands such as Aloft and Tru, also are presenting new development opportunities locally. Existing flags in many cases also are being reinvented amid changes in consumer preference toward hotels providing an experience instead of just a room in which to stay.


Developers are investing tens of millions of dollars to construct new hotels and add hundreds of rooms to Wichita’s inventory in the process. Millions of dollars more is being spent on renovating existing properties.


With all things equal, “new always wins,” Walenta says.


 It’s all helping to elevate the quality of lodging in Wichita.


An analysis from STR, a Tennessee-based company that tracks supply and demand data for the hospitality industry, shows as of February three hotels under construction will add 350 rooms to the Wichita market. Three more are considered to be in the final planning phase, while six others are said to be early in the planning process. Those projects are expected to add 777 rooms, according to STR data.


Wichita had 126 hotels and 9,508 rooms in February, STR data shows.


Attracting more events


Some view hotel development as a precursor to more events and conventions.


“If you are going to have the events, you’ve got to have adequate supply of rooms,” says Adam Mills, president and CEO of the Kansas Restaurant & Hospitality Association. “It is an important cog in the wheel.”


In 2016, Wichita hosted 524 meetings, conventions and events yielding a $48.5 million economic impact, data from Visit Wichita shows.


That total is expected to climb in 2017 and beyond. Visit Wichita last year confirmed more than 145,000 future hotel room nights, stays expected to generate a $52.6 million economic impact.


Mills says those totals are trending up because city leaders and other stakeholders, such as Visit Wichita, are doing more to promote the city as a destination. Building a new airport terminal and getting rid of the antiquated Mid-Continent Airport is aiding that effort and creating a front door to Wichita, Mills says.


Local attractions and quality dining also add to the appeal of the city, he says.


In many cases, Mills says, developers are responding to consumer demand. That’s reflected in the ability to bring new hotel flags and more contemporary design concepts to Wichita.


“People will call the shots,” Mills says. “You can’t spend money on things that aren’t going to go.”

Other revenue opportunities


New lodging properties also are adding meeting and convention space locally, creating new revenue streams for hotels in an increasingly competitive events business.


Susayn Brandes, CEO of Great Plains Ventures Inc., says event space has been lacking in some parts of Wichita, such as the northeast.


“We’ve been desperate for meeting space,” she says of that part of town.


Great Plains Ventures recently opened a 126-room Aloft Hotels facility at 35th Street North and Oliver.


Already, Wichita State University and Koch Industries Inc. have reserved meeting space for events, Brandes says.


Hotel development sends a message Wichita is serious about promoting tourism, Brandes says.


“It makes us seem more contemporary, more modern,” she says. “If you build something that is different, you have that wow factor.”

Occupancy concerns


The increased supply of hotel rooms has some operators concerned.


Chris Ruffin, who is managing the Hyatt Regency Wichita for his father, Phil Ruffin, isn’t convinced more hotel rooms is what Wichita needs.


“I just don’t want Wichita’s market to be over-saturated, and it’s getting to that point now,” he says.


Hotel occupancy for all of 2016 was 58.1 percent, according to STR. Wichita’s hotel occupancy has hovered around 60 percent since 2011.


The Hyatt will undergo an extensive renovation to modernize the facility — which Ruffin says was going to happen anyway, regardless of other new hotel development in the area.


The plan, which Ruffin detailed for the Wichita Business Journal late last month, calls for improvements to the Hyatt’s restaurant, suites and rooms.


Christine Allen, general manager at the Hotel at WaterWalk, says hotels added to the local market in recent years have made the industry more competitive.


It forces existing operators to evaluate their product, she says.


That can be tougher for independent hotels like the Hotel at WaterWalk because they don’t have the backing of a national hotel flag.


In 2010, the hotel undertook a major renovation that involved changing the design of the rooms, paint colors, flooring and furniture along with new cabinets and countertops.


Now, hotel leaders are wondering whether the facility is due for another round of renovations.


“You have to constantly to keep up,” Allen says.




Social engagement emphasized with today’s hotel design


The lobby of the Aloft Wichita Northeast is the focal point of the hotel, the hub through which the social activity in the building originates.


And the hotel’s design creates ample opportunity for social engagement.


There’s the W XYZ Bar in the back corner and the adjacent lounge area that features multiple seating configurations. A pool table is situated opposite the bar. Board games are available as are grab-and-go meals and snacks in a food-service area that is to the left of the main entrance.


Outside, guests have access to large patio areas and a swimming pool. Rooms feature high ceilings, platform beds, large flat screen televisions and walk-in showers. Central heating and air conditioning units are built in, meaning gone are the large floor units of old.


All of this is part of a more contemporary design template Marriott utilizes with its Aloft properties.


Aloft is one example of how hotels are increasingly incorporating designs that encourage social activity and connectivity in spaces outside of the rooms.


Brands are catering to a younger workforce, which tends to be more socially engaged and technology dependent, hotel developers say.


Modern design will be a staple for other hotel projects as well.


Missouri-based HCW Development Co. will incorporate the latest design standards at its hotels at 13th Street North and Greenwich and 29th Street North and Maize Road.


The 98-room Tru hotel at 13th and Greenwich is designed with millennials in mind by being technology friendly and incorporating more of an active lobby for people to gather and socialize.


A four-story Hampton Inn at 29th and Maize in the Cadillac Lake development will incorporate the latest Hampton Inn designs, such as glass-enclosed showers instead of bathtubs, a lobby gift shop, an outside gathering area with fire pit and lounge seating.


It’s clear hotel design standards are changing, and early indicators are the market is receptive to those changes, developers say.


Josh Heck, Reporter
Wichita Business Journal




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