Kansas City is going to get an 800-room convention hotel to further revive downtown, all while protecting taxpayers.
Plenty of hard work remains in the coming few months to push the recently announced project through full approval by Mayor Sly James and the City Council.
We’re going to hear plenty of grandiose promises from those promoting the hotel — and some awful-sounding horror stories from those opposed to it.
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That makes today a good time to look at four key questions.
1. Could the hotel be good for Kansas City’s downtown?
Absolutely. It would bring in thousands of free-spending visitors, many of whom could venture to the Power & Light District, the Country Club Plaza or other hot spots.
The structure is planned a block from the new streetcar line, giving visitors quick access to everything from Crown Center to the River Market area.
And the hotel would build upon the hot downtown residential market that’s boosting the urban core’s population.
2. Would the deal be a good one for Kansas City taxpayers?
Probably — if upcoming negotiations between the hotel’s private developers and public officials stick to a crucial promise: The city will not guarantee to pay for the bonds used for the project.
That was the big and costly problem a decade ago in the Power & Light District deal, when the city agreed to pay for bonds issued for that development. Today, taxpayers are on the hook for millions of dollars a year because the project is not meeting financial expectations.
To his credit, James has properly and steadfastly said he won’t sign off on a hotel agreement that would put the city’s general fund at risk of paying for a failed project.
Of course, as now structured, the hotel will still receive the Cadillac of local taxpayer subsidies, basically keeping most of the extra taxes it creates for up to three decades. The new earnings taxes produced by people who work there? Diverted to build the project. Same for an extra sales tax that will be charged at the site.
3. Is this hotel, proposed just south of the freeway loop and east of Bartle Hall’s Grand Ballroom, more evidence that expanding the convention center across the loop in the early 1990s was a good idea?
Gosh, glad you asked. Here’s something I wrote from January 1989 on this subject:
“The (City Council) ought to evaluate expansion plans to the south on the merits of what that would do for Kansas City 10, 20 and 30 years down the road. Staying within the loop could be the cautious, less costly way to go, but it also might be foolish.”
Eventually, the council said “no” to some powerful business leaders who wanted to build a bigger Bartle within the loop.
The payback was far from immediate. At the time, Bartle’s expansion over the loop was seen as a way to make land south of the freeway more valuable for developers who owned land where they pledged to build a world trade center. But it never got built.
Close to that time, the same developers wanted to build a hotel near the expanded Bartle; that didn’t happen either.
Still, going across the divisive loop eventually has helped link Bartle to the Crossroads Arts District. The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts sits about where the world trade center might have gone, and the University of Missouri-Kansas City is raising funds for its own cultural arts campus nearby.
Which gets us to the last question.
4. Will the hotel really get built within the initial deal’s parameters?
I hope so, and so should most Kansas Citians who are interested in having a more vibrant downtown.