Tonganoxie business makes mark on Manhattan with condos and now Bluemont Hotel
Tonganoxie’s Andy Suber already had a vision for the future when he and childhood friend Jason Grantham were attending Kansas State University majoring in construction science.
They were purchasing properties just east of campus not far from Aggieville and renting them out to fellow students.
“I started buying those properties in college, trying to play Monopoly,” Suber joked. “I eventually did get four of them.”
That groundwork turned into acquiring enough properties together to later build Manhattan’s first high-rise condominiums along Manhattan Avenue.
Suber and Grantham, who both went to Topeka High, became business partners in 2006 when they started Blue Mountain Capital, a Tonganoxie business along County Road 5.
They were wrapping the up the condo project when some property opened up nearby at Manhattan and Bluemont avenues, which is an iconic Manhattan corner where the KSU campus and Aggieville bar and entertainment district meet.
The timing just wasn’t quite right and the economic collapse a few years later didn’t help matters. But in the back of his mind, Suber was looking at the possibility of a hotel on that corner.
He said the Oread Hotel, just next door to the University of Kansas campus in Lawrence, helped in that vision’s process. The hotel essentially combined earlier project with the hotel option. The Oread has a mix of condominiums and hotel rooms.
But at the time, the price for the Manhattan property was too much and banks weren’t biting on such an investment, according to Suber.
“Banks were still stinging from the 2008 and 2009 collapse and ‘hotel’ was a dirty word,” Suber said. “The hospitality industry took a beating. Businesses stopped sending people out.”
Move ahead to 2012 the business partners were able to get the property under option. They then had to lock in the needed investors, “which took a good six months,” he said.
It also was a challenge to find a bank that would finance the project, but that, too, eventually came to fruition.
The company started construction later in 2013 and on Sept. 17, 2014 — the night before arguably the most-anticipated KSU home game in history with Auburn coming to town — the Bluemont Hotel opened its doors.
The KSU Marching Band, per tradition, played in the Aggieville area the night before and mascot Willie the Wildcat also made the rounds.
There’s actually a picture of Suber’s son, Ben, interacting with the KSU mascot while Grantham’s sons look on, in the Bluemont Hotel bar.
“Willie is doing the Wildcat thing in our bar and it was awesome,” Suber said.
He said he got very little sleep amid “pure chaos” the two weeks leading up to that night, but the atmosphere that night helped combat all of the stress.
The hotel has 112 rooms, 42 of which are suites. Limestone, much like the KSU campus, is prevalent throughout.
“The rooms are great,” Suber said. “We think we’ve actually had a really good year. We’re going to add a few items to the rooms.”
The hotel has many nods to Manhattan and K-State’s history. Whether a cartoonish look at Aggieville from an old yearbook to black-and-white photos of KSU years ago, the hotel certainly has that local touch. The suites have a living area with king or double queen beds.
Suber said the bar area and breakfast offerings are calling cards for the hotel.
He puts the breakfast up against any other such hotel offerings in Manhattan. Suber is partial, but also has a reason for the complimentary meal.
“Ours is pretty dynamite,” Suber said. “We go the extra mile on breakfast because we think it sets us apart from the competition.”
As for other meals, the hotel partners with Aggieville restaurants, especially Coco Bolos, which is just across the street.
“They’re way better at cooking food than we could be,” Suber said.
It also has an indoor pool and a fifth-floor space for weddings and other events.
“During wedding season, everybody wants to have their reception up there,” Suber said, noting the Greek system at KSU also uses the space extensively.
And when events aren’t taking place on that fifth floor, there sometimes is live music and a mobile bar.
The hotel does well during football season when there’s an influx of traffic for home football games. But even in the summer, which is deemed a dead time for hotels in the college town, the Bluemont Hotel has stayed busy in its first two years, according to Suber.
Suber and Grantham met in middle school and were friends on into high school. After graduation, Grantham went to KSU and Suber to Peru State in Nebraska to play football. Suber eventually left Peru and reunited with his buddy at K-State where, like Grantham, Suber majored in construction science. Suber lives in Tonganoxie, while Grantham lives between here and Bonner Springs.
The friends have completed various projects in the area, including a physician’s clinic for Suber’s wife, Dr. Stephanie Suber. Her building, Family Centered Medicine — limestone of course — is nestled near Sixth Street not far from Walmart and Free State’s football stadium in west Lawrence.
Suber also has been busy with another hotel project in recent months, the Rock Creek Hotel in Sabetha, which now is open for business.
There’s even a structure in Tonganoxie that Suber constructed with help from local families and their children. Suber built a wooden castle that was painted and is used for Genesis Christian Academy’s Night of Knights fundraisers.