A years-long struggle to bring a convention hotel to the evolving Kansas City skyline ended Thursday with a groundbreaking ceremony officials dubbed a "new chapter" in the city's downtown.
Standing before the dug-out city block where workers began construction last month, Mayor Sly James celebrated the addition to Kansas City's downtown, saying it was a culmination of hard work by several organizations.
Construction of the $325 million hotel is expected to wrap up in May 2020. The hotel, to be named the Loews Kansas City Convention Center Hotel, will create 600 permanent jobs.
James acknowledged the long road officials took to reach the goal of a new downtown hotel to pair with Kansas City's convention center, Bartle Hall.
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"For everyone who said it wouldn't happen, couldn't happen, shouldn't happen, sorry, you were wrong," James said.
James was accompanied by area development and construction officials and representatives of Loews Hotels & Co., which will own the hotel at 16th Street and Baltimore Avenue.
Chairman and CEO Jonathan Tisch said the chain is growing with six new hotels under construction to add to its portfolio of 24. He said Loews' relatively small size allows it to understand the needs of communities where it places hotels.
Tisch said officials met Wednesday night for a traditional "closing dinner" to finalize details and paperwork, but he dubbed it an "opening dinner" for a new partnership with the city.
"And it was an opening dinner because we now have proof that after many, many years of incredible hard work, Loews Kansas City Hotel is a reality," Tisch said.
Adding to the development of the Kansas City Power and Light District, residential and office spaces and downtown eateries and attractions, Tisch expected the hotel to become the "center of a thriving metropolis" and support a vibrant, bright tourism industry.
The lack of a downtown convention hotel impeded the city's ability to host the 2016 Republican National Convention, James said, but redevelopment in the Crossroads Arts District, a new street car on Main Street and work toward rebuilding the airport was making Kansas City a better place to work, live and play.
"And now it's time to invite the world in to join us," James said.
James said the hotel project was the vision of former Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes.
"I don't know that we'd be standing up here taking bows," James said. "She took the arrows. We're getting the fruits of some of her labor."
Mike Burke, a development attorney on the project, said the project took "seven years, two councils, two initiative petitions, a lawsuit and a lot of work on the funding." He saw the need for the hotel because of his work on the Convention and Visitors Bureau, now called VisitKC.
"I saw the conventions we lost because we've got the beautiful downtown, the Sprint arena, the Kauffman Center, the Power and Light District and people come to town and say, 'Where do we stay?'" Burke said. "And now we can answer that question better."