By this time next year, Riverside will be home to a new luxury hotel.
It’ll have plush, themed sleeping quarters, indoor-outdoor recreation areas, medical and dental services, a place to get that coiffure spiffed up — and an eclectic clientele.
But sorry, people. It’s for critters.
Eagle Animal Hospital — in business since just after World War II — is remaking itself with a multimillion-dollar project that will include luxury boarding and doggy daycare. That’s in addition to its standard boarding for dogs and cats, expanded medical and pet-grooming services, bigger areas for dogs to run inside and outside, and a dedicated suite for dental services.
“We’ll also board birds and pocket pets like rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs,” said veterinarian Jim Sparks, the practice’s principal owner.
Eagle’s deluxe suites for dogs will each measure about 2 1/2 by 6 feet and have a dog bed and a television to entertain the vets — and the animals. The suites will have themed decor with murals and tile mosaics featuring the University of Missouri, the University of Kansas, Kansas State University, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Kansas City Royals and NASCAR.
And, the princess suite for dogs will come equipped with a chandelier.
Yes, a chandelier.
Lavish as that might seem, high-end amenities serve valid purposes for pets and their owners, said Carmen Rustenbeck, executive director of the International Boarding & Pet Services Association, based in Las Cruces, N.M.
“As pets have moved from a property status to, let’s say, more of a child status, people’s attitudes toward their pets have changed,” Rustenbeck said. “Some pets suffer from separation anxiety. TVs in rooms can ease that. Music also keeps the level of pet anxiety down.
“People want to feel good about leaving their pets, because there’s a lot of guilt from leaving their pets behind.”
Americans’ feelings for their pets are reflected in the estimated $58.5 billion they’ll spend on the creatures in 2014, according to the American Pet Products Association, based in Greenwich, Conn. Spending in 2013 totaled $55.7 billion, up more than threefold from $17 billion in 1994.
Cats get their share, no doubt.
Eagle’s cat condos will consist of multiple rooms for separate sleep and litter box spaces, Sparks said. Exciting, though potentially torturous, features are windows that enable Eagle’s cat tenants to gaze upon birds at their feeders.
(”Ohh, that one looks plump and juicy.”)
A 900-gallon reef and fish tank will be one of the largest saltwater tanks in Greater Kansas City, outside the Sea Life Aquarium in Crown Center, Sparks said. A 23-foot ceiling is planned for the entry and reception area, and big-screen televisions will be used for customer education.
“This represents the pinnacle of my career and building my dream,” Sparks said. “I really wanted to create a one-stop place for complete pet care. This facility will be nicer than anything in the metro area.”
Sparks and Eagle’s co-owner, veterinarian Matt Silvius, spent five years planning the project, and Silvius is the point man during construction, Sparks said.
The project started in late July and is expected to be finished in June 2015, he said. The new Eagle will combine three buildings into one and more than double its space to about 11,000 square feet.
The practice’s original building, made of wood on a concrete slab, was built in 1889 as a dairy barn. That made it only 13 years younger than the city’s oldest building, St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, which was built in 1876, said Meredith Hauck, Riverside’s director of administration.
The original building was demolished as part of the Eagle project, and one of the two remaining structures will meet the same fate after the project is completed, Sparks said.
The third building will have only two outer walls and its concrete slab remaining as construction proceeds.
Changed though the physical structure will be, Eagle will remain “a Northland institution,” said Mike Duffy, Riverside’s director of community development.
“Certainly, they’ve been a great corporate citizen for a number of years,” Duffy said. “We’ve done joint projects with them. They’ve provided care for our police dogs — donated their services. They’ve been here since before Riverside became a city in 1951.”
Veterinarian Tom Eagle founded the practice in 1946. Sparks bought the business in 1995.
He and Silvius hired TerWisscha Construction Inc. (TWC) of Willmar, Minn., as the general contractor. TWC specializes in “ultra-high-end” veterinary facilities, Sparks said, meaning the most expensive and elaborate ones. He said the subcontractors are all local.
TWC’s president, Keith Nelson, said the Eagle project is unusual because half the existing structures have been removed, “so we have to be creative to find space to use in their existing facility while the new part is being constructed.”
“We’re modifying an existing, older animal hospital and bringing it up to the 21st century as far as looks and a more appealing environment for the animals that’ll be there,” Nelson said.
“That includes noise control, colors and brightness from a lot of glass in the boarding areas. A typical boarding run has bars and wire mesh. These have glass. It’s much more inviting.”
The Eagle project is average in cost compared with his typical projects, Nelson said.
“Dr. Sparks and Dr. Silvius were conscious of that, because they didn’t want to come across as being extravagant,” he said.
Sparks said that Eagle caters to “the demographic of southern Platte County” but has clients from across the metropolitan area. “And being on the way to KCI will be a big plus,” he said.
Despite the renovation and expansion, Sparks said, Eagle’s price structure won’t change except for the luxury suites.
“I don’t want to lose what got us there,” he said. “We’re not the cheapest, but we probably provide more value for the dollar. Our clients are spoiled and used to a (certain) level of personal service … My philosophy of running the practice is, first the patient, second the client and third us.”
The two ways to run a veterinary practice, Sparks said, are “compassion-based or financial-based.”
“It’s really not all that altruistic,” he said of the compassion-based model. “We have a high client-retention rate.”