|By Kevin Collison, The Kansas City Star,
Mo.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
September 17, 2009 - The search for a downtown site for a potential convention hotel started with a saunter Wednesday when a city committee walked by eight locations under consideration.
It wasn't exactly a beauty pageant -- some of the contestants looked decidedly scruffy -- but someday one could be chosen for a 1,000-room hotel project.
That is, if City Hall decides to pull the trigger on an estimated $300 million development that will require lots of public assistance.
That big decision is not expected until next spring at the earliest. The 20-member convention hotel task force is scheduled to hire a consultant in late October to guide it through the process.
In the meantime, there's already plenty of interest in the national hotel development industry in what Kansas City might do.
"I don't think we're going to have a shortage of proposals," said Bill George, task force co-chairman. "I think it'll be very active and robust."
The sites being considered are all close to Bartle Hall, and several are familiar from previous efforts to build a downtown hotel. They range from city-owned property including Barney Allis Plaza, to a parking lot, called the Carpenter site for the family that owns it, immediately west of the convention center on Broadway.
The most refined proposal that's been publicized is being pitched by developer Ron Jury. It calls for renovating the historic Power & Light Building at 14th Street and Baltimore Avenue and connecting it to a new 36-story tower on what is now a parking lot on its west side.
But on the walking tour, all the candidates were equals.
"It was a good experience to see what was out there, but we don't want to single in on one site," George said. "It would drive up the value of the property."
Still, the site selection committee wants to reduce the number of potential locations by half before the consultant is hired next month.
Some sites on the list didn't appear to make the grade, judging from the comments of the walkers.
The South Dock location, where trucks deliver goods on the south side of Bartle Hall, was downgraded because building a hotel there would disrupt operations at the convention center, and guests would be farther from the Kansas City Power & Light District and Sprint Center. Both are downtown developments the city wants a hotel to boost.
The West Broadway site also got a skeptical first look from City Councilman Ed Ford, the chairman of the site selection committee.
"There are not too many pros to the Denny's site," he said, referring to the restaurant that occupies part of the property.
"It's very visible from the interstate and its interstate access is very good," said Todd Achelpohl, an architect with HNTB.
Achelpohl helped guide the tour along with Oscar McGaskey, city director of convention and entertainment centers.
That pro-and-con exchange was typical of the informal tour.
A couple of sites did get harder looks, including the Hereford site. While it's named for the American Hereford Association building that occupies part of it, 75 percent is owned by the city and it's the largest, at 2.9 acres.
The Jury site also got some positive feedback from Rick Hughes, president of the Convention and Visitors Association, because of its strategic alignment with Municipal Auditorium and the entertainment district.
Site committee members want to include at least a couple of publicly owned sites on their list to strengthen the city's bargaining hand in negotiations with developers.
Both the Hereford site and the Hanna Rubber site are being marketed jointly as a potential convention hotel by Whitney Kerr Sr., a veteran developer at Colliers Turley Martin Tucker. The private property owners have agreed to allow Kerr to represent them in any potential transaction.
Once complicating factor, should a site be chosen on the south side of Interstate 670, could be height restrictions for the Crossroads Arts District included in a Greater Downtown Area Plan being reviewed at City Hall. They could hamper a high-rise hotel proposal, although city planners said the document is not final.
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