The Innovation Campus is “developing momentum and critical mass,” said Lou Heldman, vice president for strategic communications.
The late President John Bardo’s vision was to create an innovation district that would have more than laboratories and partnership buildings.
“It would also have restaurants and at least one hotel and shops and things that are just now starting to happen,” Heldman said.
He said a hotel is crucial because the top universities with successful innovation campuses all have hotels that make it easy for visitors.
“It’s part of being a world-facing city,” Heldman said. People such as recruiters and scientists visiting places such as Airbus, Spirit AeroSystems and the future Textron site on campus will “expect to do everything very close to the same place where they’re doing the work.”
The path to a hotel hasn’t been easy, however.
In 2016, the university announced that Dallas-based Imagine Resorts and Hotels planned an Element by Westin Hotel for 19th and Oliver. Plans were scaled back and eventually abandoned as development group MWCB began to negotiate with other hotel companies.
MWCB is comprised of David Murfin, Nestor Weigand Jr., Ivan Crossland Jr. and Steve Barrett. The firm, which is an investor in the Shocker Lodging LLC hotel ownership group, was selected to finance and manage the hotel project.
“As I understand it, the single biggest issue with the hotel has been that there are no hotels in this neighborhood,” Heldman said. “There are no hotels in this part of Wichita.”
Though he thinks the hotel is “going to be a home run,” Heldman said, “when you talk to hotel companies and you talk to banks, there is no record of success. People like to go where there is already success.”
Lodging One Hospitality of Frisco, Texas, and Overland Park — the consultant on developing the hotel that also will manage it — sees being first as a good thing.
“We think being first to market at the university will actually be a competitive advantage,” says president Chris Heinz.
The company, which has developed 10 other hotel properties, had planned to break ground this spring. Hyatt was developing a new prototype for Hyatt Place, though, and Heinz says it made sense to wait for that and be either the first or one of the first with it rather than the last hotel built with the old prototype.
“It’ll be really modern and tasteful,” he said. “We’re excited to showcase it.”
The groundbreaking is Aug. 29, and the hotel will be ready next summer.
“The whole story of Braeburn Square has been that private investors have had to believe in the vision of the Innovation Campus and that they were going to get a return on their investment,” Heldman said. “We’re really fortunate that we had some investors who have believed in this project form the beginning.”
Heldman said Bardo would “be both happy and completely dissatisfied” with where the Innovation Campus stands.
“There’s vast pieces of the vision that are yet undone, but it’s a good start, and even he said to me last winter that it’s gone much faster than he ever thought it would go.”
Still, Heldman said, “He would think we’re just getting started.”