Starting this spring, Exit 157 on Interstate 70 at the northwest edge of Hays is set to transform from bare ground and narrow, hilly chalk roads to a $40 million travel plaza development.

The project calls for a fully outfitted travel plaza, along with restaurants, a hotel, an upscale RV park, retail shops and a two-lane concrete highway bypass.

The development by D&J Development LLC is a partnership of Hays businessman Dan Hess and Topeka commercial real estate developer John E. Brown.

The 40-acre project sits at the crossroads of two major traffic corridors, namely east-west I-70 and the planned $10.8 million Northwest Business Corridor. The Business Corridor, which was recently awarded $6.5 million in federal construction money, is being designed as a 55 mph bypass around Hays for trucks and superloads on heavily trafficked north-south US-183 highway.

“That’s what solidified the whole project, when the bypass was approved, that’s when our clients signed the contract,” said Brown, president of D&J. “The traffic from the north will come down right in front of our location, and the people going north will get off at our exit.”

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran formally presents the federal grant to the Ellis County commissioners at 1:30 p.m. Friday at the Ellis County Administrative Center, 718 Main St. Kansas Department of Commerce Secretary David Toland will also be present.

At the heart of the development, at the northwest corner of 230th Avenue and 55th Street, will be a 12,000-square-foot travel plaza with as many as 125 parking spaces for semitrailer rigs and 30 more for cars. The 12-acre travel plaza will include truck scales, manual and automatic wash bays, a trucker’s lounge, showers and three quick-service restaurants. Two of the restaurants will be sit-down, while the third will be drive-through, Brown said.

The developers will break ground in March, starting with the travel plaza, which will take about nine months to build.

“Hays is smack dab in the middle between Denver and Kansas City, and the truckers have about a 300-mile radius that they stop and fill up,” Brown said, noting the city currently doesn’t have a full-blown travel plaza. “Hays is a perfect, perfect spot ... Truckers are parking all over the place and they’re going on down the highway and spending their money in Salina or in Colby. We hope to get them to stop and park at our facilities, and eat food and spend money on our sites.”

Endeavor Hospitality LLC, of Springfield, Mo., plans a 70-room deluxe extended-stay hotel, Brown said. Construction will start in April or May and take six to seven months.

The upscale RV park, at the west end of the development, will cover up to 4 acres, with parking for 65 RVs, as well as a swimming pool with cabanas and other amenities.

“It’s going to have a doggie park. Those are becoming very, very popular. We put those in all our locations now,” Brown said.

RV park construction will start after the travel plaza breaks ground, taking about 90 days, he said.

“We anticipate Hays will be a very good location,” Brown said. “You’ve got the travelers to Colorado, the skiers, the hikers, you’ve got these big Winnebagos, a half-a-million to a million-dollar machines, and there are a lot of people who vacation out to Colorado.”

Brown said his company started looking at Hays years ago, but a project wasn’t feasible because there was no water or sewer infrastructure on the north side of I-70.

The acreage was recently annexed into Hays and the developers have applied to the city for tax increment financing to cover the cost of water and sewer lines. While dirt work has been underway for months, actual construction can start after the city authorizes the TIF, hopefully in 90 days, he said.

“Hays has just been very good to work with,” said Brown, specifically mentioning city manager Toby Dougherty. “I’ve done a dozen TIFs in my career, over 35 years, and nobody’s been easier to work with than Hays, Kansas.”

Ellis County and the city of Hays worked together on the Business Corridor, particularly to ease access problems for the businesses on what is currently a network of chalk county roads. Oilfield supply manufacturer Hess Services has 360 employees there, and a steady stream of big rigs driving in and out of its plant, hauling equipment to and from buyers in North Dakota, Colorado and Texas.

This is the first project together for Hess and Brown, whose company Brown Stone 3 Development LLC, of Topeka, has for more than three decades built multi-acre sites with hotels, restaurants and retail chains that cater to travelers. The company offers construction-ready sites along highways and interstates on casino property, beside intermodal facilities and near universities, according to company information.

“We went to Hays to buy land from Dan Hess, to put in a travel plaza,” Brown said. “Once I met him, we decided to do a joint venture together. He’s a great guy, this guy’s a genuine stand-up guy. We got along well and I had a lot of trust and faith in him.”

Hess Services, which probably won’t build the travel plaza, could feasibly handle any of the construction, he said.

“Dan has the capabilities in Hays of building anything we want to build,” Brown said. “He owns the manufacturing company for all the red iron and steel. He owns a concrete company, he has a contracting company.”

The developers have been getting calls about retail opportunities. Plans call for a 12,000- to 15,000-square-foot strip center. The developers are negotiating now with an anchor retailer that may take as much as 5,000 square feet. Three other retailers can take the remainder.

The developers have an option on 10 more acres at the site.

“I think we’ll exercise that option in June, because we’re having a lot of response on Hays,” Brown said. “The 30 acres is pretty much sold out. The 10 acres is almost essential, we’ll have to have that. We probably will see probably some more retail, also probably another restaurant.”