Letters to the Editor

Crosby Kemper III and Mike Burke debate the convention hotel plan

This view shows the southern side of the Kansas City Convention Center Grand Ballroom at Bartle Hall (center) and the proposed location of the new Hyatt downtown hotel (right).
This view shows the southern side of the Kansas City Convention Center Grand Ballroom at Bartle Hall (center) and the proposed location of the new Hyatt downtown hotel (right). deulitt@kcstar.com

No on convention hotel

Columnist Steve Rose took issue with the Kansas City Public Library and me for bringing Heywood Sanders to talk at the Central Library Wednesday night (and to have a public breakfast forum with present and future City Council members and City/EDC staff Thursday morning). He called it my personal agenda. When we booked Sanders, of course, I didn’t know that the council would vote on the hotel subsidies the day after his scheduled talk.

When I first started talking to Professor Sanders, of the University of Texas, a few years ago he was already recognized as the leading expert on taxpayer subsidized convention centers and hotels. It is true that after 25 years of study he came to some conclusions about the taxpayer subsidized convention center business and sort of gives away his findings in the title of his book, the most important study of this phenomenon, “Convention Center Follies.”

What Sanders can tell us is 1) the recent history of our own expansions of Bartle — have we met projections, costs and benefits (spoiler alert — no); 2) whether it is good business to be in the current competitive landscape; 3) the experience of other cities with recent big subsidized deals (almost universally bad); 4) whether we are likely to expand in or simply cannibalize existing business; and 5) whether the size of the proposed taxpayer subsidy, relative to private equity, is realistic or not. None of this was analyzed in the developer-provided numbers used by the EDC, the City Council and The Star. In its editorial Sunday (“New downtown hotel is a risk worth taking for KC”), The Star referred only to the $50 million diversion from the American Royal projects (our largest current event revenue) as opposed to the actual $162 million to $195 million taxpayer subsidies in the city’s numbers.

The city’s TIF analysis shows the library losing nearly $800,000; Kansas City Public Schools, $4.7 million; community colleges, $1.2 million; and mental health, $325,000. And that does not include the forgone tax revenue on the city land and the $280 million building.

The taxpayers passed local levies for the common good of our city. The library, the public schools, the community colleges and mental health entities are defending themselves against the city taking away that money with its endless corporate subsidies. We believe that isn’t just a personal agenda but a citywide agenda that defends children, students, citizens and all taxpayers, maybe even democracy itself.

But you know something, you can come down Wednesday night to our public lecture and Thursday morning to our public forum at the Central Library to see and participate yourself. That’s what libraries and democracy are for.

Crosby Kemper III

Director, Kansas City Public Library

Yes on convention hotel

The following is a letter written to City Council members and others.

You may have received an invitation from Crosby Kemper to hear a presentation by Heywood Sanders at the Kansas City Public Library. Kemper’s sole intent is to undermine the solid work and research the city and Visit KC have undertaken with the assistance of independent third party consultants for nearly seven years regarding the need and benefits of the proposed convention center hotel.

It is important to clarify misleading statements by Kemper. First, Kemper claims the library and school districts will lose property tax revenues due to the tax exemption to be granted to the project. The property in the project area is owned by the city of Kansas City and a tax-exempt organization and has generated no real or personal property tax revenues for decades. While the project will generate no direct revenues for the school or library districts, it will result in no direct costs to either district. No hotel guests or visitors will enroll children in the school district or demand library cards as part of their stay in Kansas City. The direct impact to these districts is revenue neutral.

The library and school districts point to a cost-benefit analysis prepared for the TIF commission by Springsted and Associates in claiming the project will result in a loss to the districts. In delivering the report to the TIF commission, the Springsted representative expressly stated it intentionally overstates public costs and understates public revenues in an effort to be conservative.

Sanders is a well-known critic of the convention industry and travels the country, most often at the behest of conservative groups, to criticize public involvement.

He is invited, as in this case, not to give a fair and unbiased evaluation of the hotel project but to condemn the project. Crosby Kemper denied our request to provide the opportunity to local experts on the Kansas City convention and tourism market to participate on a panel to comment on Sanders’ presentation.

It is clear Kemper’s intent is to skew the discussion and tell only one side of the story. While Kemper boldly claims the mayor and the City Council do not like criticism, he is fine with his own refusal to allow for a balanced presentation of various view points and facts regarding this project at an event sponsored by the Kansas City Public Library.

The use of public library resources by the director of the library district to provide a public forum for only one viewpoint should be questioned.

Mike Burke

Burke Swerdling & Associates, part of the hotel project team

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