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University of Kansas brings in OVG for Gateway District scheme

Images: University of Kansas and OVG Hospitality

The University of Kansas (KU) has entered into a partnership that will see Oak View Group become stadium operator for the Gateway District and reimagined David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium, while OVG has also set out plans to establish a culinary academy in its home city of Denver.

Under the KU deal, which also includes management of food and beverage services and suite catering for all Kansas Athletics venues, OVG will oversee the day-to-day operations of both the football stadium and conference centre when Phase I of the Gateway District opens in August 2025.

The group will lead the bookings of conference events, special events and concerts, while operating a membership-only dining club in one of the club levels of the stadium. OVG will also play an integral role in the current Allen Fieldhouse upgrades, managing all food and beverage and hospitality in the arena. Allen Fieldhouse began the first phase of upgrades prior to the 2023-24 season and is currently undergoing a second phase that will be unveiled prior to the 2024-25 campaign. 

KU and Kansas Athletics announced the latest plans for their transformational Gateway District project back in August, including the first architectural renderings of what will be a reimagined David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.

The Gateway District will also comprise a new conference centre and multi-use facilities that aim to enable year-round use and drive economic development in the city of Lawrence. Plans for the district also include a combination of new retail, dining and other amenities that will seek to drive student recruitment and enhance the campus experience for KU students and employees.

KU issued a request for proposals inviting partners to bid on a project to reimagine its college football facilities back in June, with major upgrades to David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium central to the plans. KU first announced plans to transform the area near the intersection of 11th and Mississippi streets back in October 2022.

“We are thrilled to partner with such a proven and innovative team in OVG,” said Kansas director of athletics, Travis Goff. “A generational project like this requires best-in-class partnerships, and that is what this relationship reflects.

“The Gateway District and David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium, along with a transformed Allen Fieldhouse, will have an everlasting impact on KU and the Lawrence community, and OVG will be at the centre of a world-class fan experience. We are incredibly excited about what this partnership means for our season ticket holders, donors, students, and campus community.”

OVG has several other successful partnerships in the Big 12 Conference, of which Kansas is a member, and college athletics as a whole. It will look to transform the Gateway District and David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium into a destination for events through its emphasis on stadium and conference centre bookings.

The group will work closely with Jayhawk Hospitality, the KU office that currently manages full-service events and conference rentals on campus, to book events that draw tourism to Lawrence that benefit campus and community partners. 

“We are excited to partner with one of the most respected college athletic programs in the nation,” said Chris Granger, president of OVG360. “We look forward to collaborating with the University of Kansas in setting a new standard that redefines the game-day experience for Jayhawk fans.

“Our joint dedication to culinary excellence and community impact will be showcased through elevated food and beverage offerings, an array of special events, world-class premium hospitality, and thoughtful local partnerships.”

Culinary academy to develop OVG’s hospitality business

Furthering its commitment to the Denver market, OVG has entered into a collaboration with culinary expert Christian Navarro, Edgewood Real Estate Investment Trust, and entrepreneurs Lee Ann and Mark Van Loucks, to create Golden Oak, a state-of-the-art restaurant and culinary academy.

Golden Oak is envisioned to become a lifestyle destination for culinary, wine and spirits enthusiasts. The approximately 9,600-square foot restaurant, slated to open in early 2025, will be led by a group of food and wine experts dedicated to crafting a memorable dining experience.

“Our vision is to create a space where food is experienced,” said Tim Leiweke, chairman and CEO of Oak View Group.

“We aim to ignite a sense of wonder in our guests with each dish and position Golden Oak as a desired destination for those seeking culinary adventure. Golden Oak is set to become a landmark project that encapsulates our commitment to excellence, innovation, and education.” 

The culinary academy side of the project will see a full-service open kitchen paired with a test kitchen allowing chefs and operators to train, experiment and collaborate with the goal of perfecting premium hospitality offerings. New food items will be tested in the live restaurant environment for possible inclusion on menus at select OVG properties.

OVG, which relocated its global headquarters to Denver last summer, also plans to partner with local Colorado universities for internships and apprenticeships in both hospitality and business.

Granger added: “In addition to testing new menu items, our culinary academy affords us the opportunity to develop new talent and further establish the powerful OVG culture within our hospitality business with a hands-on approach. It is equally important to us to consistently offer great food, imaginative experiences, and first-rate customer service.”