Several Kansas City Council members praised the new downtown convention hotel’s design Wednesday even as they continued to worry whether the project will get built and be successful.
The council’s Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee voted 4-1 Wednesday in favor of the development plan for a new 800-room Hyatt Regency Hotel at 16th and Wyandotte Streets, directly across from the Bartle Hall Ballroom. The measure goes to the full council April 20 for final regulatory approval of a project that has been years in the making.
“This helps us grow the economy,” committee chairman Scott Taylor said in endorsing the project, noting the hotel will create more than 1,000 construction jobs and 350 permanent jobs, with 30 percent of those new hotel jobs guaranteed for Kansas City workers.
Council member Heather Hall was the lone dissenter, saying she still has too many questions and doubts about the hotel’s financing to vote for it. Councilwoman Katheryn Shields voted for the project but wondered whether the city can truly attract enough conventions to fill an 800-room hotel on a regular basis without cutting into other Kansas City hotels’ business.
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Hall noted that downtown has added or planned 1,000 new hotel rooms since this hotel was announced in mid-2015, yet major hotels rarely have occupancy exceeding 65 percent.
“Just because we build them, how do we know we’ll fill them?” she asked.
Mike Burke, attorney for KC Hotel Developers, said Kansas City has been losing conventions for years because it lacks 2,500 hotel rooms within walking distance of Bartle Hall, so this hotel will fill that void.
He said Kansas City would then be in a “sweet spot” to attract the type of midsize conventions it has lost to other cities like Cleveland, Indianapolis and Louisville, Ky. This is the first new hotel in Kansas City since 1985, and Burke said convention planners are looking for sparkling new facilities like those they find in many other cities.
“I actually think we’re going to knock it out of the ballpark,” Burke predicted of what will be a four-star quality hotel, adding that it should create demand for the other hotels’ rooms, too. “I think it will raise all boats.”
Burke said he is confident the financing pieces will come together. He reminded the committee that the bulk of the financial risk for the $310 million project rests with the investors. The city will contribute $35 million, but only after all the private financing is in place.
Burke said the developers expect to get a guaranteed maximum price from JE Dunn by late May, close all the financing shortly after that, have a groundbreaking in late summer, and open the hotel in late 2019 or early 2020.
Manny Dominguez, an architect with Atlanta-based Cooper Carry, told the committee that the 23-story, L-shaped hotel has been designed to take maximum advantage of downtown’s views, with two thirds of the rooms facing north and one third looking over the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
The main entryway will be on Wyandotte. A covered bridge will cross Wyandotte, connecting the hotel lobby to the convention center. The hotel tower will have a tall, vertical glass facade facing downtown.
“It’s all about connecting visually to the city,” Dominguez said.
Taylor said he thought the hotel, with its ballrooms and other meeting spaces, may be a big draw for residents and local celebrations as well as for out-of-town conventioneers and tourists.
Shields wondered why HNTB wasn’t the primary architect on the project. Burke explained that HNTB is still part of the team but said Cooper Carry has a particular expertise in hotel design.