Carrie Rengers

Element by Westin Hotel coming to Wichita State’s Innovation Campus

An exterior view of the future Element by Westin Hotel, a 123-room hotel that will be at Braeburn Square, a future retail area within Wichita State University’s Innovation Campus.
An exterior view of the future Element by Westin Hotel, a 123-room hotel that will be at Braeburn Square, a future retail area within Wichita State University’s Innovation Campus. Illustration courtesy of Law Kingdon Architecture

As Wichita State University continues to land corporate partners for its Innovation Campus, a new mixed-use area within that campus called Braeburn Square now has its first deal.

Dallas-based Imagine Resorts and Hotels is building a 123-room Element by Westin Hotel, which will feature a contemporary, sustainable design.

“We just see it as a tremendous opportunity,” says Imagine principal John Nagle.

He says his company has hotels at a lot of universities but was particularly interested in WSU because of the Innovation Campus and the university’s ties to the business community.

“They have just more interaction than you sometimes see at universities,” he says. “It’s a leading front of what you’re seeing out there.”

Kansas City developer Rick Worner is developing the 30-acre Braeburn Square, which is named after the former Braeburn Golf Course that the school closed to make room for the 120-acre Innovation Campus.

In addition to the hotel, Worner will have about a dozen restaurants and shops on 20 acres. The rest of the 30 acres will be roads, walking paths, retention ponds and green space.

Element may not be the only hotel, either.

“We are cautiously optimistic that after this hotel is built and stabilized that we will look at the market again,” Worner says.

That could mean a second tower at Element or an additional hotel.

The national hotel occupancy average is 62 percent, Nagle says, and he says research shows the Element at WSU will have an average occupancy greater than 70 percent.

Even without the Innovation Campus, there’s already a need for a first-class hotel in that area, says Lou Heldman, vice president for strategic communications. There are school activities such as sports and cultural events that necessitate rooms.

Heldman says the university also is expanding its enrollment reach, and it’s natural to have a hotel for people coming from greater distances.

At the Innovation Campus, he says the expectation is that corporate partners will have a number of visitors and employees who visit for short-term assignments.

And, in part as a result of some of those partnerships, Heldman says, “We frankly expect to have a lot more recruiters coming to campus from out of town because we expect interest in our students.”

Law Kingdon Architecture is designing plans for the Element. Construction will start by spring at the corner of Oliver and 19th, which will be a new street within the Innovation Campus.

The hotel will have an indoor saline pool, complementary bicycles and green features, such as carpet made from recycled tires and lights that turn on and off as they’re needed.

Worner, an investment banker who brought Nebraska Furniture Mart, Cabela’s and Great Wolf Lodge to Village West in Kansas City, Kan., says he’s purposely holding off making restaurant and retail deals for Braeburn.

“There are still a lot of other potential (corporate) partnerships they’re working on that can only benefit the quality of tenant we’re going after,” he says.

“There’s a lot of interlocking decisions here from a business standpoint,” Heldman says.

Worner says if more corporate partnerships are announced yet this summer, he’s prepared to start making deals this fall.

He says Braeburn Square, which GLMV Architecture is designing, will be something special.

“I was told that Wichita State wanted to create a unique, one-of-a-kind place,” says Worner, who also is developing the dinosaur park in Derby. “That’s what I specialize in doing.”

He credits WSU President John Bardo and John Tomblin, president of the Wichita State Innovation Alliance.

“President Bardo and John Tomblin are really visionaries,” Worner says. “It is rare to find public officials that have a vision of creating a unique public-private partnership that will benefit the students, the faculty and the … private business employers that are locating on campus. They truly have a vision of how to create this business incubator … partnership.”

Airbus is the first Innovation Campus partner and will have an engineering center with up to 400 employees and WSU students.

There also will be an Experiential Engineering Building with 25 laboratories and a GoCreate community makerspace, which is part of a collaboration with Koch Industries and the Koch Foundation.

A new Law Enforcement Training Center also will locate there. It’s a joint city, county and WSU Criminal Justice Department effort that will train police officers and students.

Heldman says the school continues to talk to other companies regularly, including ones that have heard about the Airbus deal and contacted the school on their own.

“We’ve been hearing from companies we haven’t approached who love the idea,” he says. “There’s a war for talent in the world, and companies want to come to places where there are smart people who can be part of their company.”

Heldman says companies aren’t coming to WSU to help the school.

“They’re coming here because they want to help themselves.”

That the Innovation Campus and Braeburn Square can happen at all is amazing, Worner says.

“Wichita State is very unique in that they have this amount of space,” he says. “It’s really rare.”

At many campuses “you’re lucky if you can find one acre much less than 100 acres,” he says.

“That owes a lot to the genius of the trustees 50 years ago when the land became available,” Heldman says.

He says it’s interesting to see how decisions that were made half a century ago are helping the campus today.

“Hopefully the decisions we make today will have a positive impact 50 years from now.”

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