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Blaze and heavy smoke damage the iconic Savoy Grill in downtown Kansas City

Fire crews gathered around the building housing the Hotel Savoy and its Savoy Grill during a fire Thursday. No one was injured, officials said.
Fire crews gathered around the building housing the Hotel Savoy and its Savoy Grill during a fire Thursday. No one was injured, officials said. The Kansas City Star

A late-afternoon fire Thursday heavily damaged Kansas City’s iconic Hotel Savoy, home to the city’s oldest restaurant, the Savoy Grill.

Heavy smoke billowed from the main entrance and lower level as fire crews arrived about 4 p.m. at 219 W. Ninth St.

Within 10 minutes, fire officials had requested enough crews and equipment to handle a second alarm.

As aerial fire trucks poured water on the structure, dozens of people emerged from nearby downtown buildings and began capturing the scene on their cellphones.

Hotel workers who had escaped the blaze said the first sign of trouble came when they saw heavy black smoke pouring out of the Savoy’s kitchen.

The fire started in the basement and spread to the first floor, Fire Chief Paul Berardi said.

Many rooms on the hotel’s upper floors were empty, but long-term residents either got out safely or were not home at the time. No patrons were in the restaurant when the fire started, fire officials said.

An operator of historic hotels, 21c Museum Hotels of Louisville, Ky., has been planning a $47.5 million makeover of the Savoy Hotel and Grill, including the original 1888 structure and the 1903 addition housing the restaurant.

A spokeswoman for 21c, which last year won City Council approval for nearly $34 million in city incentives for the project, said the company was trying to gather information on the fire Thursday evening.

The spokeswoman, Stephanie Greene, said 21c did not own the property yet but hoped to close on the purchase in December.

The redevelopment plan called for restoring the Savoy Grill and renovating the six-story hotel as a 120-room luxury property. Besides the city aid including standard tax-increment financing, “super TIF” and help from a community improvement district, Visit KC had agreed to let the developer retain the revenues the tourism agency normally receives from hotels to help finance the redevelopment plan.

21c also was seeking federal and state historic tax credits. It has redeveloped other such hotels and added fine art pieces to their attractions, along with luxury rooms and fine dining.

The Savoy redevelopment called for $11.7 million of the overall cost to be reimbursed by future tax revenues through a standard TIF and $18.7 million to be reimbursed from future revenues through what’s called super TIF assistance.

A similar tax incentive package had been approved for earlier redevelopment proposals for the Savoy. Those plans, however, failed to move forward.

To reach Glenn E. Rice, call 816-234-4341 or send email to grice@kcstar.com.

To reach Greg Hack, call 816-234-4439 or send email to ghack@kcstar.com.

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