Kansas City, Missouri, recently voted “Best City for Sports-Crazed Fans” by Travel & Leisure Magazine, needs some help if it’s going to live up to its reputation. The city is pinning its hopes on the development of a new convention center hotel to help bring in the business.
The proposed hotel would be built directly across from the Kansas City Convention Center's Grand Ballroom at 16th and Wyandotte.
“Kansas City needs a major downtown convention hotel, and has for several years,” Kansas City Mayor Sly James said. “America has fallen in love with Kansas City and wants to have its conventions and large meetings here. The proposed agreement is the right development at the right location with the right hotel operator, and now is the right time to do it.”
“Kansas City made a commitment a generation ago to be a premier meeting and convention destination,” the statement noted. “ Yet, Kansas City’s national convention ranking has fallen since the 1970s as other cities have financed and developed attractive convention centers and supporting amenities.
“While Kansas City has many assets to attract conventioneers, including a convenient midcontinent location, an established convention center with adjoining ballroom and meeting space and appealing, nearby dining, retail and entertainment options, meeting planners say lodging is inadequate for anything other than small-to medium-size meetings.”
“This announcement is a game changer for the KC hospitality industry,” said Ronnie Burt, Visit KC president and CEO. “Over the last 10 years, Kansas City has lost out on hundreds of groups, representing millions of room nights and more than $3 billion in economic impact.”
"Kansas City has explored ways to embrace its advantages as a convention city since the convention center’s Grand Ballroom opened in the mid-2000s. A city council committee vigorously explored the idea of a convention center hotel in 2009-2011, but no project resulted.
"To complement the city’s current investment in its convention industry, a local team of professionals with real estate development experience and convention industry expertise has come together to develop a convention headquarters hotel for the city. The headquarters hotel will be integral to the city’s convention center operation in order to bring job-creating, economy-boosting meetings and national events to Kansas City.
"Burke Swerdling & Associates, led by Kansas City civic leader Mike Burke and Bob Swerdling, a national hotel finance professional, assessed the market and determined that a combination of factors made the time right to propose a convention headquarters hotel in Kansas City. The team also includes KC Hospitality Investors LLC, JE Dunn Construction and HNTB Architecture."
The KMBC-TV news story noted that construction on the project is expected to begin in early 2016 with completion planned for 2018. The new center is expected to house 75,000 square feet of meeting, banquet and convention space with room for restaurants, retail and a recreational facility. It will also add approximately 500 parking spaces to the area.
Mayor James explained the project is a public-private partnership. The city will invest $35 million in revenues from existing Convention and Tourism taxes. Local taxpayers won't be responsible for any project cost overruns. The balance of the project cost will be financed by the new city and county taxes generated by the new hotel’s operations, ballroom catering revenues plus private equity and debt.
But not everyone is in favor of the development. Some residents are questioning the need, doubting the economy has come all the way out of its slump, and citing Las Vegas as an example of a tourism hub still emerging from problems.
But there can be no doubt that KC, in its present state, needs to grow its tourism facilities if it is to attract business. Skills USA said it decided to find a new destination for its annual convention after it outgrew Bartle Hall and had attendees sprinkled around 38 hotels in Kansas and Missouri. In addition, the 2016 Republican National Convention mentioned hotel space as one factor in its decision to settle the event in Cleveland – but noted it was not the deciding factor.
Nevertheless, say officials, they are optimistic the development of expanded lodging facilities will turn the tourism tide in their favor in years to come.
"It levels the playing field. It allows us to be at the table," said Ronnie Burt, who helps sell Kansas City to convention planners.
The city already has a seat at the head of that table – it just needs the final push to be the guest of honor. Its sports facilities are second to none. In a January/February 2015 article in Sports Destination Management, Kansas City’s venues were highlighted; these include the Sprint Center arena (which finished 2013 as the eighth-busiest arena in the country, according to Pollstar magazine), the Truman Sports Complex, Sporting Park, the Kansas City Convention Center and the Overland Park Soccer Complex as well as the Independence Events Center and many more.
The new hotel should serve all facilities well. According to information released by the mayor’s office, the convention headquarters hotel will feature approximately 75,000 square feet of meeting, banquet and pre-function space, 9,000 square feet of garden/terrace space, 15,450 square feet of other retail, restaurant, bar and lounge space, a 9,913-square-foot recreational facility and a parking facility with 450-500 spaces.
In addition, there is economic impact for the project both in construction and post-completion. It is expected that the hotel will require 1,500 construction workers during the course of construction. The 800-room convention headquarters hotel will provide an estimated 350 full-time-equivalent jobs plus additional employment in other Kansas City-area businesses serving the convention.