The Kansas City Council dealt Thursday with a referendum petition that challenged the planned downtown convention hotel, but not in the way petitioners had wanted.
Petitioners questioning the hotel wanted an election in November. But the council, on its own, repealed a hotel zoning and development agreement ordinance that it had approved in April, negating the need for an election.
The council voted 10-2 to repeal the April 20 ordinance. Council members Heather Hall and Teresa Loar were the lone dissenters.
The council had already replaced that April ordinance with a substitute zoning and development agreement measure on June 8 that allowed the hotel plan to move forward. That June measure could not be subjected to a referendum because it took effect immediately, so Thursday’s “repeal and replace” maneuver circumvented the petitioners’ intent.
Dan Coffey, spokesman for the petitioners, could not immediately be reached for comment. But he issued a statement Monday saying that the group Citizens for Responsible Government had collected more than 11,000 signatures on two different petition drives to try to put the hotel project to a public vote.
“That’s 11,000 voters who would like a say in how their money is spent,” Coffey said.
The hotel project is a public/private partnership, and Coffey’s group objects to the use of any taxpayer dollars for what is estimated to be a $311 million development. The city is providing $35 million in direct investment, plus land and other public incentives for the project.
The hotel plan has been on a roller coaster ride since it was announced more than two years ago. It was initially the subject of a citizens petition challenge that tried to put the hotel to a public vote in late 2015. The city refused to hold an election at that time, and a judge upheld that decision. The judge found that the petition measure was unconstitutional.
Coffey’s group then gathered signatures for this year’s referendum attempt. It collected enough signatures under the city charter, but that same charter allows the council to repeal ordinances on its own rather than forcing a public election.
Just last week, the hotel developers announced that New York-based Loews Hotels and Co., a well-respected luxury convention hotel operator, will be a joint venture partner with KC Hotel Developers LLC to build the 800-room hotel near Bartle Hall.
Loews replaced Hyatt as the planned operator for the hotel.
Kansas City attorney Mike Burke, spokesman for the hotel developer, says the June 8 ordinance affirmed the zoning and development agreement and gave the hotel all the regulatory approvals it needs to move forward. He said he was not concerned that the referendum petition would further interfere with the hotel plan.
If all goes as the developers hope, a groundbreaking on the 800-room hotel is expected in October. The hotel could open in late 2019 or early 2020.