A dispute over a giant billboard in downtown Kansas City finally has been resolved, paving the way for a new, $19 million hotel in an area ripe for development on the streetcar line.
The Kansas City Council voted Thursday to settle a lawsuit by the Lamar advertising company, which had challenged the city’s powers to condemn its billboard. The impasse threatened to scuttle the hotel project at 20th and Main streets.
Now Lamar would give up that billboard in exchange for upgrading two other existing highway signs, while making the Main Street property available for a five-story, 110-room hotel.
“It allows an absolutely terrific project to move forward, which is otherwise jeopardized,” Councilman Ed Ford said of the settlement.
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Councilman Jim Glover agreed, saying it saves the city and the developer from having to buy the billboard for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and allows for a hotel that will be built without any tax incentives.
“We’re putting in a new development, which will employ Kansas Citians at that location,” Glover said. “It will look good and will give Kansas Citians jobs.”
Councilwoman Jan Marcason also was pleased that the plans call for sprucing up what had been a shabby parking lot at the entrance to the Crossroads neighborhood.
But Councilman John Sharp, the lone dissenter Thursday, said he felt Lamar was “squeezing” the city into a billboard swap that it would normally oppose, just to save the hotel project.
Sharp praised the development but said he doubted the City Council would have agreed to upgrading two highway signs if the hotel project weren’t so desirable and time-sensitive. Hotel supporters had feared that if the dispute dragged out much longer, the hotel operator would walk away.
But Sharp and others have long lamented what they consider the visual blight of billboards throughout the city.
Jim Bowers, an attorney for Lamar, said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the deal but declined to comment further until the settlement becomes final, 10 days after Thursday’s vote.
But Roxsen Koch, attorney for Sunflower Development Group, said that Thursday’s vote is a very positive resolution and that the developer “is looking forward to moving forward with a wonderful project that is very important to the Crossroads District.”
Construction should begin in June, according to Jason Swords of the Sunflower group. The hotel is being built on behalf of Overland Park-based True North Hotel Group, which would operate the first Hilton Home2Suites in the area, with contemporary extended-stay suites.
Lamar filed suit last year after the City Council voted to condemn the billboard. The city argued it had the legal right to do so because the parking lot where it was located was an eyesore, and the looming sign itself was a hindrance to beneficial development at the entrance to the Crossroads neighborhood.
At a Jackson County Circuit Court hearing in November, Lamar countered that its property rights were at stake and argued that the city couldn’t just take one of its most valuable billboards from such a prominent location to make room for another private property owner.
The judge still had not ruled in the case and both sides had acknowledged that no matter who won, the other side was likely to appeal, prolonging the legal uncertainty.
The settlement does not require any money from the city. Instead, Lamar would give up its two-sided billboard at 20th and Main in exchange for upgrading one of its existing signs on Interstate 70 at the Benton Curve to a digital sign and for upgrading an existing sign at Interstate 35 and Chouteau Trafficway into a “tri-face” sign that allows three messages on one board sequentially.
Sharp, who has been active on the council in trying to limit the proliferation of billboards, said he would have been OK with swapping the downtown sign for one sign but not two, and he worried that a digital sign on the Benton Curve will be distracting and dangerous to motorists.
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