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New Ideas Taking Shape for Building a Downtown Kansas City Convention Hotel

By Kevin Collison, The Kansas City Star, Mo.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

July 19, 2011--Several years and much money later, the effort to build a new downtown Kansas City convention hotel appears to be charting a different course.

The plan hatched more than a year ago to open a 1,000-room hotel on the block of the historic Power & Light Building -- a site the city spent $250,000 to lock up -- is fading in favor of a location on the south side of 14th Street between Baltimore Avenue and Wyandotte Street.

As a result, White Lodging of Indianapolis is apparently taking another look at Kansas City. White is a respected private developer that passed on the hotel deal as it had been framed -- a new tower beside a restored Power & Light Building.

There also may be some life in a sweeping half-billion-dollar concept championed by DST Realty in which the Marriott Downtown would be expanded, the remainder of the old Muehlebach restored and a new tower built, adding more than 1,400 rooms to the convention inventory.

Regardless, it appears that Mayor Sly James, who supports a new convention hotel, will have fresh ideas to consider when the hotel steering committee, which has been dormant since last winter, reconvenes next month.

It's all about the money.

City officials think they've found a way to save $60 million in the cost of a proposed hotel, previously estimated at $350 million, by leaving a ballroom out of the project and using the existing one at Bartle Hall that opened just four years ago.

But that cost-saving measure would require a more direct alignment of the hotel tower with the convention center, which is why the alternative site on 14th Street has come to the forefront. That property is owned by DST and Kansas City Power & Light.

What's hoped for in the end is a deal that would attract more private investment and require less public help. Nobody, after the taxpayer-subsidized shortfalls of the Power & Light District, supports using the city's credit to back a bond for a hotel project.

With all the changes in thinking, it appears likely the steering committee will have to issue a new request for proposals from developers. When it sought proposals last year for the Power & Light Building block, it heard back from two, including Ron Jury.

Jury originally pitched the idea for building a tower combined with restoring the historic art deco skyscraper, and he still thinks it's the best one.

He also pointed out that if a new hotel were to be built on the south side of 14th Street, it would block the most often seen view of the Power & Light Building.

Jury also knows converting old buildings works, saying the Hilton President, which he redeveloped in 2007, has averaged 75 percent occupancy.

"I believe the Power & Light Building has a following of its own that will attract people, more so than any brand new convention hotel," Jury said.

The co-chairs of the hotel steering committee, Bill George and Councilwoman Cindy Circo, are reluctant to go into details but acknowledge the new thinking under way.

The steering committee has spent $500,000 on consultants the past couple of years in addition to the quarter million allocated to tie up the Power & Light block for a potential hotel.

Circo thinks the work done by the committee to date, even if substantial changes occur, has been worthwhile. For one thing, it kept the idea of a downtown hotel alive during the mayoral term of Mark Funkhouser, a fierce critic of the plan.

"We kept the conversation going," she said. "Without the committee, it would have died.

"The consultants also kept it visible on the national level, telling people that Kansas City was serious. Without that, we'd be starting from zero. We are beyond the first step, and I think it was valuable."

She also said the election of James has been instrumental in persuading potential hotel developers to take a hard look at Kansas City.

"I can't even remotely convey to you what the change in leadership has meant nationally," she said.

To reach Kevin Collison, call 816-234-4289 or send email to kcollison@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter at kckansascity.

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To see more of The Kansas City Star, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.kansascity.com.

Copyright (c) 2011, The Kansas City Star, Mo.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For more information about the content services offered by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services (MCT), visit www.mctinfoservices.com.



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