For decades civic leaders have pushed the notion that more investments in the tourist and business-visitor infrastructure would translate into more and bigger conventions. For decades those pleas fell somewhat flat as large annual meetings began leaving Kansas City and the city suffered the disinvestment doldrums and watched other peer cities build and grow.
But the taxpayer-supported revival of downtown has brought new enthusiasm, a new image an evolving new skyline and now a long-in-the-making proposal to build a convention hotel meant to bring Kansas City onto a newly expanded playing field.
A $6 billion investment in downtown over the last decade is only the beginning of the story, Ronnie Burt, the energetic new leader of Visit KC, said during an unveiling of the hotel proposal on Monday.
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The 800-room Hyatt Hotel would be a public-private partnership, built with $35 million in city bond financing plus convention-tax dollars and an undisclosed investment by a group including Colorado and New York financiers.
Burt and Mayor Sly James virtually put their reputations on the line by promising new convention business in the coming years.
Burt and James visited Washington D.C. not long ago, and, as Burt told it, they heard over and over again the question, When would Kansas City build a new convention hotel? “Now we have the answer,” Burt said.
James added later that he could enumerate eight or 10 national conventions that had passed the city by because of the lack of centrally located rooms. Those included organizations of engineers, accountants and the American Nurses Association, James said. He did not mention the next GOP National Convention, which James personally courted before losing out to Cleveland.
But, he said, “I’m willing to bet” that by the time the first piece of steel goes in the ground for the $300 million hotel tower, “there’ll be conventions signing up.”
The hotel deal is on a fast track, and it remains to be seen what kind of obstacle course City Council critics and others might put in its way. If all goes as planned, the hotel could open by 2018.
Mike Burke, the lawyer and former mayoral candidate who spent the last three years bringing the hotel project to fruition, noted that in the mid-1970s, Kansas City ranked in the top tier of convention cities. “We can be that again,” he said.
The mayor’s big reveal on Monday took place in the sunny atrium outside the Convention Center’s Grand Ballroom, just across Wyandotte Street from the hotel site. In one direction, attendees could see the Sprint Center five blocks to the east. To the south stands the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and the future site of UMKC’s proposed Conservatory of Music campus — just $16 million more in fund-raising to go, Burke noted.
And down the hill, the clang of hammers rang in the air within the framework of a smaller hotel going up across the Baltimore side of the Hyatt site.
Ten years ago, much of the downtown area remained stagnant. The planning and building of the Kauffman Center and other projects then sputtered through the recession. These days, in the afterglow of hosting Major League Baseball’s All-Star game and then a World Series party, the atmosphere downtown is often electric. Yes, we will continue to regret how the city is covering the revenue shortfalls of the Power & Light District. But downtown continues to sprout. This deal seems much better than that one. And momentum is very much on its side.