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Plans for hotel, restaurants in the works for downtown Hays

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

A hotel in the Chestnut Street District in downtown Hays would be profitable, according to a study by the Ellis County Coalition for Economic Development.

A cost benefit analysis "was extremely good," said executive director Aaron White.

"The benefit ratio came out at over $2. Which means for every dollar the community puts into it, they're going to receive at least $3 in return," he said. "It's probably one of the best cost-benefit returns that I've worked on."

Liberty Group, the primary developer for projects in downtown Hays, is proceeding with plans for loft hotels.

"We are in the planning stages in terms of business plans and financing and all of that," said Kelli Hansen of Liberty Group. "Kind of behind the scenes, all the major stuff that has to be done before any physical stuff takes place."

Hansen said Liberty Group is looking at putting loft hotels in the Oddfellows building at 1107 through 1111 Main; in the Basgall building at 1100 Main, above Paisley Pear; above Bella Luna Maternity and Baby, 1013 Main; and above the new candy store, Sweet Tooth Candy Shack, at 1012 Main.

"Those all have second floors, and it would be in that core area where we proposed the main hotel site," Hansen said.

The exterior of the Oddfellows building is completed, Hansen said. The ground floor is ready for occupancy for retail space.

"At this point, when we have an entrepreneur come forward and have a solid business plan for the interior of the building on the first floor, we would certainly do everything we can to get new businesses at ground floor, as well as supporting current businesses down there," Hansen said.

Loft hotels would benefit other businesses, too, keeping shoppers downtown overnight. Hansen said also planned is an event center for people to gather, perhaps up to 300 people for a wedding, for example. That would be in the old Strand theater building at 1102 Main.

Hansen said another project Liberty Group is working on is finding something to replace Cafe Semolino Coffee & Eatery, 110 W. 11th, which closed in June.

"We're working on getting another food service or something, a restaurant-type down there," Hansen said. "We would entertain any type of thing ready to go.

"The more restaurants that we can put down there, the better. If you look at any thriving downtown district, they have a number of eating options."

Part of an energized downtown would be a pavilion square, said Traci Konrade, executive director of Downtown Hays Development Corp. The pavilion square hit a bump in the road with its proposed location near the railroad tracks.

"We are still moving forward with the project," Konrade said. "We are kind of waiting on the railroad.

"We're continuing to work with city staff to define the property we're allowed to put it on, and then we will continue moving forward."

Konrade said the pavilion square got a positive response as part of the city's comprehensive plan.

"The projects that come out of that, the community wants to see done, and the city commission approved that they also would like to see done," she said. "I think it's very important to continue to move forward with the projects that were defined in there; specifically one of those for downtown was the pavilion square, which is the need for public space.

"We really hope to push forward and make that a reality."

DHDC redefined its strategic plan in 2012, Konrade said. Physical improvements downtown and along the railroad corridor involving the pavilion are DHDC goals.

DHDC is working with the Ellis County Coalition for Economic Development for business recruitment and also is working with the Hays Convention and Visitors Bureau on marketing.

"We are going to work with Ellis County Coalition to define what businesses are needed in Hays, and hopefully go after some targeted recruitment," Konrade said.

While not all buildings are occupied downtown, Konrade said that is to be expected.

"Of course, having unoccupied buildings is the normal thing in small downtowns," Konrade said. "It's a normal transition for businesses.

"We've got a couple more coming in, which is a positive thing, and we have contacts on a regular basis."