I-70 travel plaza utilities, grading nearly done

Margaret Allen
Hays Daily News
Hess Services Inc. dirt crew Nate Owens and Salvadore Miranda work in a trench to set a manhole on Friday as part of laying new sewer line along U.S. Highway 183 Bypass near the I-70 exit from a planned Interstate-70 travel plaza to existing sewer line at 41st Street.
Hess Services Inc. dirt crew Robert Elliott, left, Dave VonFeldt, in the excavator, and Dane Basgall, right, lift a manhole Friday as part of laying new sewer line along U.S. Highway 183 Bypass near I-70 exit 157 from existing sewer line at 41st Street to a planned Interstate-70 travel plaza.

The nation’s economic turmoil from the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down development on the western edge of Hays of a 40-acre deluxe travel plaza.

But Doug Hutchinson, the developer’s representative, on Thursday told the Hays City Commission at its regular meeting that “Things are moving along.”

Water and sewer utilities are about 75% done. Crews from Hess Services Inc. of Hays, have been laying sewer and water line. 

The line extends from existing lines at 41st Street. Work crews on Friday were nearly ready to bore underneath Interstate-70 to the development site at the northwest edge of Hays at I-70 Exit 157.

“We’ll come underneath I-70 and hook under their spine or trunk and that’ll touch every lot,” Hutchinson said. “Each new tenant will pull from there.”

Grading on the development site is about 85% done, he said.

Pandemic upside

The developers, D&J Land and Development LLC of Topeka, also have put in for building permits for the travel plaza and truck wash. Also planned for the site are a hotel, restaurants and retail businesses, and an upscale RV park.

“From a tenant standpoint, I feel that our tenant base is going to be stronger because of the COVID wait, partly because the strong companies have made it, they’re looking to expand, they have cash, they’re looking to go,” Hutchinson told the commissioners. “Some of the weaker companies have not made it, they were going to extend themselves, so it’s worked out good.”

The development is a partnership of Hays businessman Dan Hess and Topeka commercial real estate developer John E. Brown.

Crossroads plaza

At the heart of the development at the northwest corner of 230th Ave. and 55th Street will be a 12,000-square foot travel plaza with up to 125 parking spaces, three restaurants, an extended stay hotel, and retail businesses.

The location is at the crossroads of two major traffic corridors, the east-west I-70 and the planned $10.8 million Northwest Business Corridor. The corridor will improve access for 360 employees and trucks coming and going from oilfield equipment manufacturer Hess Services.

The two-lane paved Northwest Corridor blacktop will replace a hilly, narrow chalk road with a 55 mph bypass around Hays for trucks and superloads on heavily trafficked north-south US-183 highway.

COVID-19 delay

Construction on the travel plaza was to have started in March 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was taking off in the United States. Hotel construction was to have started in April or May, just as the pandemic was tanking travel and tourism.

“The hotel financing issue is still a problem,” Hutchinson told the commissioners. “Actually I got an email while I was sitting there, it’s starting to come around, but it’s a tough issue.”

D&J in 2020 had entered an agreement with the city for a 22-year Community Improvement District, which would impose a 2% sales tax on tenants toward funding infrastructure on the project. That tax was to have started April 1, 2021.

“The statute requires the clock begin on that date,” said city finance director Kim Rupp.

Vote Thursday

With all the delays to the project, however, D&J last Thursday was asking the city commissioners to push that date out to Oct. 1.

The commission will vote on that request at their regular meeting this Thursday.

“I’m just so excited about this, as I was before,” said commissioner Shaun Musil. “Things happen, 2020 wasn’t a good year for anybody. As long as they’re still going to do what they say they’re going to do, I think it’s going to be a good thing for us, so I don’t see a big issue with this.”

“Is there a possibility that they coud come back and ask for another extension?” asked commissioner Ron Mellick.

“Certainly they could try that,” said Rupp. “But I believe it was communicated that this should be the only request.”