By BECKY KISER
HKHR Hospitality Corp. of Hays announced Friday afternoon it will build a new urban design La Quinta Inns & Suites four-story, 81-room hotel immediately west of the closed Golden Corral restaurant (soon to be remodeled as an Old Chicago pizza restaurant and taproom.)
Partners Raj Sharma, Hays, and Srujan Vusi, Oklahoma City, said their group has also purchased the Hays Motel 6, which will be renovated and become the independent Hays Tiger Inn. The name change will become effective Jan. 18.
“Hays is a good community, a growing community,” Sharma said. “I think the new hotel will be an added bonus. So far, the city and the people of Hays, anyone we’ve asked for help, have always been willing to help and welcomed us with open arms.”
HKHR, whose investors include a Hays doctor, has been working on the La Quinta project for nearly a year. The group owns the land on which the hotel will sit. They anticipate a groundbreaking in May and a grand opening in April, 2019. “We have our construction folks all lined up,” said Sharma.
Sharma said they had to negotiate with nearby Walmart which “was gracious and helped us out. If you plan to build close to Walmart, they restrict you to three stories.” “It took about three months for them to release us from that restriction, so it will be a four-story hotel,” explained Vusi. “Our engineer contacted them and they were open to waiving the height restriction,” Sharma added.
According to the group, Hays will be the only town in western Kansas to have the La Quinta Del Sol design, featuring a “huge loft-look lobby.” The only other such contemporary La Quinta in the state is in Wichita.
They also noted the hotel will be “pet friendly.” “That’s something our travelers are always looking for,” said Melissa Dixon, executive director of the Hays Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The news conference was held at the Hays Welcome Center, home to the Ellis County Coalition for Economic Development which has worked with HKHR to move the project forward.
Asked if the group will ask for any financial incentives from the city, Sharma answered, “We value taxpayer dollars. We know other hotels have approached the city and received a CID (Community Improvement District). That’s the one place I think Hays taxpayers are not losing money. I think that we’ll be open to asking about a CID but that’s not going to restrict us from going ahead with the project.”
They noted Equity Bank of Hays is involved in the financing of both projects. “Very helpful, and we thank them,” they said.
The economy-price hotel will retain its 87 rooms and most of its current employees. “I met with them and most of them (currently employed at Motel 6) want to stay,” Sharma said. “I think they’re excited about the transition and the changes they’ll see.”
The investment group has talked to Red Roof Inn about a potential franchise agreement. “If there’s no value by adding the franchise, we won’t add it,” Sharma said. “We’re remodeling according to the Red Roof Inn standards,” Vusi pointed out, “but we’re not going to take the Red Roof franchise as of right now.”
More than 50 people will employed between the two hotels. “It’s going to be added jobs in the local economy,” Sharma said.
A Wichita-based developer recently announced plans to build a 100-room Hilton Garden Inn and convention center immediately west of Walmart. Vusi and Sharma aren’t worried about the competition. Their group actually first talked with the Ottley Addition landowner, Mark Ottley, about purchasing his land.
“We started the conversation with Mr. Ottley way back, but location and timing didn’t work out in our favor,” said Sharma. “We’re fine with it. It’s two different concepts. I think it will add revenue to our site as well because if somebody is coming to the convention center, we’ll be the first hotel they come to. They might want to stay at the La Quinta.” “It’s positive news that we’re both here,” added Vusi.
HKHR is currently building a Marriott property in Wichita, according to Vusi.
Sharma attended the University of Kansas and has lived in Kansas for 17 years. He is employed by Hays USD 489 as the Director of Special Education for Hays-West Central Kansas Cooperative, which includes Ellis USD 388, La Crosse USD 395, and Victoria USD 432.
Vusi owns a business in Shawnee, Oklahoma.