|By Rick Alm, The Kansas City Star,
Mo.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jun. 24, 2008 - Kansas City's largest annual convention took a hike this afternoon.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. informed city officials it was canceling the final four years of its unofficial pledge to hold its annual national managers meetings in Kansas City through 2012.
The event, scheduled over nearly two weeks in January, was expected to draw more than 8,000 attendees next year.
Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association Chairman Bill Lucas said Wal-Mart simply outgrew Kansas City's ability to hold the huge event.
Attendees were being placed in hotels as far as 25 miles out and had to be bused to Bartle Hall.
City officials as late as a week ago believed Wal-Mart would hold the event here in 2009 and then walk away in 2010.
"It's not entirely unexpected," Lucas told association board members Tuesday at their monthly meeting. "We thought we had them in '09. It's a blow to the hospitality industry and the food and beverage operations around town."
In a statement Tuesday released through the Kansas City association, Wal-Mart said:
"After thoughtful review of venue options, we've informed Kansas City officials that, to better meet the needs of our associates, we will move the annual kick-off meeting to a setting with accommodations that allow for better meeting logistics and additional economies.
"We are grateful for the hospitality extended by Kansas City over the years and we will continue to explore the possibility of making Kansas City the site for other Wal-Mart gatherings in the future."
Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association President Rick Hughes said the loss would cost area hotels, restaurants and others an estimated $7.5 million in visitor spending.
Worse, the cancellation leaves a $600,000 hole in rental revenues the city had budgeted to receive, said city convention facilities director Oscar McGaskey.
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