Quest for a convention hotel goes back decades

The Downtown Marriott has long been the main convention hotel downtown.
The Downtown Marriott has long been the main convention hotel downtown. Special to The Star

Since the early 1990s, a string of attempts have been made to build a second large downtown hotel to serve Kansas City’s convention trade.

Back then, Kansas City developer Whitney Kerr Sr. and Ross Perot Jr. tried to get — but lost — city support for a proposed $124.5 million 1,000-room hotel on land now occupied by the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. It was to be a bookend for the Marriott downtown, serving as another “headquarters hotel” for Kansas City Convention Center groups.

Since then, about $2 million in public and private funds have been spent on site research and financial feasibility studies.

A 2007 study on the downtown hotel industry called for a 1,000-room hotel to open near the convention center, also known as Bartle Hall, by 2011. That report, by Convention Sports & Leisure International of Minneapolis, said the openings of the Sprint Center and the Power & Light District and the expanded convention center were expected to increase room demand markedly.

At the time, the report said Kansas City could handle conventions needing 1,500 rooms, tops. To be competitive with cities such as Denver, Indianapolis, Dallas, St. Louis and San Antonio, Kansas City needed 2,000 to 3,000 rooms, with at least 2,000 of them within walking distance of the convention center.

Downtown then could offer only 800 walkable rooms, with the Marriott on 12th Street, undergoing a remodeling, considered “the” convention hotel. There simply weren’t enough other high-quality rooms to meet convention planners’ expectations.

Over the years, some convention planners had discounted the 1,400-plus rooms at the two large Crown Center hotels as not being “walkable enough.” Current hotel planners say that walkability concern is mostly eliminated because of the streetcar line that is under construction.

In 2009, Ron Jury, who redeveloped the President Hotel at 14th Street and Baltimore Avenue, proposed combining renovation of the historic Power & Light Building with construction of a 1,017-room hotel on the parking lot next to the skyscraper. That $350 million proposal became one of eight, then four, potential hotel sites eventually considered by a city site selection subcommittee.

In 2010, DST Realty weighed in with a proposed 400-room addition to the Marriott and Muehlebach hotels along with building a 1,000-room hotel, for a $465 million total price tag.

The city’s site selection panel in the spring of 2010 endorsed the Power & Light tower’s block, the site proposed by Jury, as the optimum location for a new convention hotel.

Jury appeared to have the edge to move forward. He’d lined up a mostly local development team and arranged $51.7 million in state and federal historic tax credits to help the renovation part of the proposal. Other developers, some from out of town, also submitted proposals.

The city liked the prospect well enough to spend $250,000 on an option to buy the Power & Light property while it sought development proposals. Nothing happened, partly because of the slumping economy. The city lost its option.

Meanwhile, sentiments appeared to shift about the best location for a big hotel. Convention experts downplayed the wisdom of remodeling the Power & Light tower as hotel rooms.

In 2011, the city’s new mayor, Sly James, put a convention hotel on the front burner again. By 2013, the city still was searching for a deal, assisted by Strategic Advisory Group of Atlanta, and the mayor said at least three possible deals had been received.

Thoughts about using the parking lot west of the Power & Light building disappeared when developers acquired the skyscraper to convert to apartments. Given limited available land options, the proposed Hyatt site became the development target.