|By Kevin Collison, The Kansas City Star,
Mo.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
March 18, 2009 - The historic Savoy Hotel and its landmark restaurant would be polished to "four-star" status under a proposal being pursued by a developer who worked a similar transformation in Denver.
Eric Holtze has a contract to purchase the 120-year-old property at 219 W. Ninth St. and is pursuing city approvals for a $25 million redevelopment plan.
The once-grand hotel's roots reach back to Kansas City's cattle baron heyday, and its restaurant, the Savoy Grill, still honors the booth with a plaque where former President Harry S. Truman liked to dine.
"I hope we'll define the high-end in Kansas City," Holtze said. "I have a great amount of respect for the history and tradition of this building."
Should all go according to schedule, work would not begin on the project until spring 2010, with an opening anticipated in 2011.
The first step occurred last week when the Kansas City Council approved extending a tax-increment financing plan for the property that was authorized in 1999. Mayor Mark Funkhouser, however, voted against the TIF extension and has until Thursday to decide whether to veto the measure.
The previous TIF plan had been submitted by Don Lee, the building's owner since 1965. He wanted to restore the property and operate it as a Courtyard by Marriott.
The earlier redevelopment plan authorized up to $6.3 million in tax-increment financing assistance. Lee, however, was unable to obtain the private financing necessary to move forward with his plan.
Lee said his association with the Savoy began in 1960 when he ran the restaurant there.
"It's sort of a historic monument, and the restaurant has always been first class," he said. "Time marches on for all of us. I've been at the front door every Saturday night for 49 years."
He added that Holtze is capable of renovating and running the property.
"I think Eric is a fine person and a good operator," he said. "Over the years, speculators have looked at the property, and we didn't take them seriously."
Holtze wants to pursue a more upscale 120- to 130-room hotel that would be operated independently. He is working with Triad Capital Advisors to arrange private financing for the project. Other funding sources would include state and federal historic tax credits.
Holtze said his hotel experience began in Denver 23 years ago. He and his brother developed seven hotels and built five. The most high-profile project, and similar to the one being pursued here, was the renovation of the American National Bank building, built in 1910 in downtown Denver.
The 12-story bank had been covered with a concrete facade and was vacant for eight years before Holtze began the project. The exterior was restored to its historic appearance and reopened as a 246-room hotel called the Magnolia. It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The developer also has had experience locally. He developed the 215-room Holtze Executive Village suites hotel in Overland Park in 2000.
Holtze enjoys Kansas City so much he decided to relocate here with his wife.
The redevelopment plan calls for the first floor of the Savoy Hotel and the restaurant to be restored to its original experience including the stained-glass dome in the lobby. Stained-glass windows installed 15 years ago facing Ninth Street would be removed.
The building is actually two structures, the original hotel built in 1888, and an addition built to the west in 1903 that includes the Savoy Grill. Holtze has hired Guy Thornton, a British-trained architect based in Denver, to design the project assisted by Rick Kuhl of Williams Spurgeon Kuhl & Freshnock Architects of North Kansas City.
F. Chase Simmons of Polsinelli Shughart is the attorney assisting Holtze.
The most significant change to the exterior would be relocating the main entrance to the east side of the building to create a more grand point of arrival for guests. That modification will require consent from state officials who administer the historical tax credit program, and approval from the city to vacate the alley.
The upper floors of the six-story building would be completely renovated in what Holtze described as a "crisp, modern and classic" style. The intent is to pursue four-star status for the hotel, a criteria that calls for wider hallways, larger rooms, upscale bathrooms and amenities that include 24-hour room service.
"We want the restaurant taken back to its original glory and bring in a high-level operator," Holtze said.
On the rooftop, Holtze is considering a swimming pool, roof garden, lounge and fitness club.
The primary market is business people during the week and tourists seeking luxury accommodations on weekends.
To reach Kevin Collison, development reporter, call 816-234-4289 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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