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Hotel 'last piece' downtown needs





The loft overlooking 11th and Main provides a wide view of the bustling streets in downtown Hays, but it is a small glimpse into the unfolding vision of a large developer.

A new boutique hotel is expected to transform 19 lofts downtown and offer 48 rooms in a new building at 1108 Main. Liberty Group Inc. will visit the Hays City Commission on July 17 to present the project and seek feedback, said Kelli Hansen, Liberty project manager.

The plan calls for the former Hays State Bank to be demolished starting at the end of the year and the Hays City Proper hotel to open in 2016. Features of the concept allude to Hays' history.

The hotel's Mulroy Cafe refers to a former hotel that once stood at the site, and the Blue Light Lady Lounge is named after a famous ghost rumored to appear near Historic Fort Hays. The hotel connects to Strand Theatre, where between 350 and 700 people can gather for special events.

Hansen said a "viable solution" for parking is in the works.

Hays' progress toward becoming a destination city has established a market for a downtown hotel, she said. Hays Aquatic Park, restaurants, art walks, historical societies, farmers markets and businesses make the area appealing.

"The downtown has developed to a point where it has become somewhere people just want to be, and now they want to be even longer than just a day-trip," Hansen said.

Chuck Comeau, president and founder of Liberty Group Inc., said the area's growth has enabled the project.

"After several years of work developing this innovative hotel concept, we are excited to bring this economic development proposal in front of the Hays City Commissioners and take another step forward," Comeau said in a statement. "In 1999, when Liberty Group was formed, our initial plans for the Chestnut Street District always included a hotel development, and we are thrilled with the steady progress over the past many years that has now proved the feasibility of this exciting project."

Terry Kinderknecht, owner of TK's Smokehaus, leases from Liberty for his business at 110 W. 11th. The restaurateur said he supports the plan.

"I think it's great for downtown Hays. I think it's good for the community as a whole," Kinderknecht said. "I think it's something that really should go over well if they do it right. I think Chuck and his group will."

Sarah Cearley, owner of Simply Charmed and Bella Luna Boutique, also rents from Liberty. The business owner said a hotel would complete the downtown area.

"We feel the hotel will be an essential component to make downtown Hays more of a destination," Cearley said. "There's already shopping and dining, and offering accommodations is that last piece to really make downtown Hays thrive."