The Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., is interested in hearing from developers who think they can put together a plan for a convention center and hotel at Village West.
The Unified Government last month sent out a solicitation for development firms to submit their ideas for a convention center with between 30,000 and 50,000 square feet of meeting space and an accompanying 225-room hotel.
Responses are due by March 16.
A convention center in the western side of Wyandotte County is an idea that the Unified Government has been studying in recent years. Leaders think there’s a market for meeting space and a hotel to go along with the current and anticipated boom of development around the Village West area.
“It’s something we have talked about for a long time,” said Unified Government Mayor Mark Holland. We’re “looking for a way to drive year-round tourism to the area.”
Holland noted that sports facilities in the area — the Kansas Speedway, CommunityAmerica Ballpark and Children’s Mercy Park — draw visitors primarily during the spring, summer and autumn months. But the area could use a development like a convention center as a year-round draw.
The proposed convention center’s size would be smaller than the Overland Park Convention Center, which has 60,000 square feet of exhibition space and 25,000 square feet of banquet space, along with several meeting rooms. And it would be much smaller than the Kansas City Convention Center, which covers more than 800,000 square feet of exhibition and meeting space.
Holland said the proposed Village West convention center targets smaller gatherings. It would be twice as big as the Jack Reardon Convention Center in downtown Kansas City, Kan.
The Village West area already has smaller hotels, which Holland said do well.
Hollywood Casino had planned to build a 250-room hotel near the second turn of the Kansas Speedway. The casino hasn’t broken ground on that yet, which means it has owed the Unified Government payments in the range of $1.3 million to $1.5 million the last two years, and it will continue owing those annual amounts until it starts construction on the hotel.
Jeff Boerger, president of the Kansas Speedway Development Corp., said the casino is watching to see what happens with a bill introduced in the Kansas Legislature that could make it easier to reopen The Woodlands, the shuttered horse racetrack northeast of Village West.
Phil Ruffin, the Las Vegas gaming and real estate impresario who was raised in Wichita, bought The Woodlands and has planned a $100 million rebuild of the aging facility into a horse racetrack and entertainment center.
But Ruffin and his associates have said they can’t make the numbers work on reopening The Woodlands without changes to Kansas law.
House Bill 2173 proposes, among other things, lowering the percentage of revenue from electronic slot machines that racetracks in Kansas would owe to the state from 40 percent to 22 percent.
That 22 percent rate is what casinos like Hollywood Casino pay from electronic gaming machine revenue.
Scott Beeler, an attorney representing Ruffin and his effort to reopen The Woodlands, racetracks should not have to pay a higher rate on gaming machine revenues than casinos. Revenue from electronic gaming covers the expense of horse racing, Beeler added.
“It’s not financially feasible” Beeler said of the current rate for racetrack gaming revenues. “That’s why racetrack gaming facilities don’t exist in Kansas today, because the numbers don’t work.”
Hollywood Casino has argued that reducing gaming revenue rates for racetracks doesn’t level the playing field because the casino had to pay a $25 million privilege fee to operate in Wyandotte County and invest at least $250 million in the facility itself.
HB 2173 awaits a hearing in the House Appropriations Committee.