As Kansas Citians, we want the best for our city. We want it to thrive. We are proud of the successes — the burgeoning start-up scene, vibrant arts community, healthy neighborhoods and even our winning sports teams. Seemingly not a week goes by without Kansas City appearing on another “best of” list. We are improving in most every measurable category. But success will only continue with thoughtful investment and a commitment to grow.
The debate over the need and value of a new convention center hotel has been well discussed. In fact, it has been a topic of discussion for decades. But while music and fashion may have changed since the 1980s, the benefit of a new modern hotel in Kansas City is still as relevant as ever. I not only think that a new convention center hotel is good for our city, it is also vital to continuing the success we are currently experiencing.
The Hyatt hotel development led by the KC Hotel Developers team is the right proposal at the right time for Kansas City.
Let’s recap the proposed hotel plan: A local development team that believes in Kansas City’s role as a successful meeting destination, and host for events of all types, has proposed to develop an 800-room modern convention center hotel at 16th and Wyandotte streets, directly across from the Kansas City Convention Center Grand Ballroom. The hotel is projected to cost roughly $310 million, with significant investment from private and public stakeholders.
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The only public funds being committed to this project will come from the existing convention and tourism tax. The city will also not guarantee the TIF debt. This is a low-risk, high-reward plan that limits city exposure, while placing Kansas City in the best position to maximize return on the many other civic investments — to the benefit of every Kansas Citian.
A deal like this, with no public guarantee of debt, is unprecedented. Cities from Austin to Nashville have built major hotels recently under a public-private partnership model. In fact, nearly every convention hotel in America uses such partnerships. However, most other cities have invested far more public money and faced far greater risk than this proposal involves. It is a good, honest and fair deal that fits Kansas City and places us in the best position for success. Put simply, we are doing it right.
There is also an oft-repeated misconception that the convention business is dying. In fact, the opposite is true. In this age of technology and virtual experiences, the desire for face-to-face meetings has never been stronger. Data from the Center for Exhibition Industry Research show that to be true across all sectors.
Authentic and welcoming mid-size cities like Kansas City offer even greater potential. Kansas City doesn’t have to “hit a home run” to be a successful destination, but we do need to make meaningful investments. The proposed convention hotel is a solid investment, with reasonable projections, that allows us to garner a greater share of meetings for years to come.
The benefits of a convention center hotel to our community are undeniable. Increased tourism strengthens our existing investments in downtown and throughout the community. The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, the Kansas City Zoo, Union Station and countless small businesses are all better attractions for citizens because of the dollars spent by visitors. A 2014 study by Visit KC, the average tourist spends $140 per day, while the average convention attendee spends $249 per day. Kansas City tourism is a benefit to every citizen and returns significantly more to our city than we invest.
We have spent a great deal of time, energy and money to make Kansas City the great city it is today. Building a right-sized convention hotel in a low-risk way maximizes our many other investments and helps to complete the three pillars that are vital for every citizen; tourism, residential and employment.
Jon Stephens is president of Rockhill Strategic, former interim president and CEO of the Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association (now Visit KC) and now interim executive director of the Kansas City, Kan., Chamber of Commerce.