Kansas City Council approves billboard condemnation for Crossroads hotel plan

04/24/2014 7:14 PM

04/24/2014 7:14 PM

Kansas City has approved condemning a towering billboard at 20th and Main streets, a big step needed for a developer to move forward with a planned $16 million hotel project in the Crossroads Arts District.

The proposed 110-room Hilton Home2 Suites would occupy the southeast corner of 20th and Main streets, but before it can proceed, a billboard owned by Lamar Advertising has to be removed. The pole sign also has been protected by a “perpetual” visual easement that says nothing can obstruct its view.

On Thursday, the Kansas City Council unanimously designated the sign as blighted, beginning the condemnation process.

“We’re very happy that the development seems to be moving forward and we’re committed to the project,” said Jason Swords with Sunflower Development Group. “It’s located on the streetcar route and would continue to redevelop that part of the Crossroads.”

Swords is working on the five-story Hilton Home2 Suites deal on behalf of Overland Park-based True North Hotel Group.

Brad Wiens, executive vice president of True North Hotel Group, said, “It’s been our thinking all along this sign is blighted and we’re very excited to move to the next step. The city is doing the right thing for the betterment of the Crossroads.”

The city’s decision to seek condemnation will now require a Jackson County circuit judge to establish a condemnation commission to determine the value of the billboard. The city already has offered Lamar $250,000 for the sign.

In 2008, the city had to condemn a similar pole billboard in the East Village area to make way for the J.E. Dunn Co. headquarters project. The condemnation panel wound up determining its value at $345,000.

Wiens said the hotel would be a major boon to the Crossroads area.

“It will benefit everybody, not just us, including restaurants, bars and other establishments,” Wiens said. “Our guests would be able to walk to a multitude of places within a multiblock area.”

The city also will need to demolish the closed Walnut Street ramp off the Main Street viaduct crossing the development site. Swords said the city plans to demolish the ramp by late summer.

Jim Bowers, the attorney representing Lamar Advertising, could not be reached for comment. At a City Council committee hearing earlier this month, the attorney argued that the condemnation would violate a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Kelo v. City of New London, Conn.

In that decision, the high court reaffirmed it was proper for local governments to acquire private property for development if it was part of a “carefully considered economic development plan” that did not benefit a particular business but the entire community by creating jobs and tax revenue.

The visual easement for the billboard was negotiated in 2006 with Hereford KC Realty, owner of the Hereford House restaurant on the northeast corner of 20th and Main. The restaurant was destroyed by an arson fire in 2008. The property, except the billboard, is now owned by Great American Bank.

The hotel proposal also will be seeking tax incentives from the city. Swords wants to use the tax increment financing program, but the project is being reviewed by the city’s new AdvanceKC economic development evaluation process.

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