Community leaders joined together Wednesday for the first Hays Area Community Cruise — a tour designed to promote networking and collaboration while providing information and updates regarding plans for the area.

Hays Area Chamber of Commerce hosted the event, with Downtown Hays Development Corp., Ellis County Coalition for Economic Development, and Hays Convention and Visitors Bureau also contributing.

“We have four areas in the Welcome Center building that a lot of people confuse,” said Tammy Wellbrock, Chamber executive director. “We want people to truly understand the difference between all of us so they are making the most educated decisions possible.”

Approximately 20 participants gathered for breakfast and an informational session within the Welcome Center, where the four groups described their individual missions and contributions.

“We cover a lot of different areas — anything from workforce development, to housing issues, to business recruitment and creation,” said Aaron White, ECC executive director.

After introductions were complete, the group filed into a Fort Hays State University athletic bus and began the tour.

White was the primary speaker, guiding participants through informational topics including property projects, the retail market and developer plans.

Details highlighting why markets do well in Hays were mentioned.

“The Applebee’s in Hays is the highest grossing Applebee’s in the state of Kansas,” White said. “Our nearest competing Applebee’s is in Kansas City, and it’s $2 million less revenue a year than the one here in Hays.”

White also touched upon future restaurant and retail possibilities.

“A lot of the restaurants we’re looking at are nice, sit-down restaurants,” he said. “Not a one of them I’m working with are fast-food restaurants.”

Developer plans and opportunities for various pieces of property sprinkled throughout Hays were described.

“The property west of the Holiday Inn Express and the ground that wraps around Carrico’s location and west of Walmart has been bought by a local developer,” White said. “(The developer) is looking at opportunities to do some kind of large, multi-tenant retail development.”

Sara Bloom, DHDC executive director, described recent additions to the downtown area, marketing goals and plans for buildings many have been wondering about.

“We are launching a new marketing plan, and it will rebrand all of downtown as the Bricks in downtown Hays,” Bloom said. “We’re hoping it will unite all of downtown into one, unified space.”

Bloom also announced the recent sale of Fox Pavilion and said the new owners are still in negotiation, but are making plans.

“They plan to turn it into an entertainment center available for weddings, receptions, MMA fights — things like that,” Bloom said.

Many questions were answered, ideas were sparked and plans discussed during the duration of the cruise, tying leaders together to view community plans as one, consolidated project.

“We feel this is our way of being able to advocate and strengthen relationships and communication,” Wellbrock said. “I really want to strengthen the relationship between all these decision-makers and add a more unified strategy and vision.”