Sept. 13–If Kansas City wants to keep up with the economic momentum in Nashville, Austin, Denver and other major Midwestern cities, it has to step up its hotel game.
That's the argument put forth by two real estate executives who have proposed a $63.5 million, four-plus star luxury hotel to be built across Wyandotte Street from the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
The "vanguard" travelers who come in from the coast and want the best a city has to offer can't find it in Kansas City, said Eric Holtze, president of the E.J. Holtze Corporation. The hotel boom around downtown hasn't brought the high-end experience developers hope will come with another luxury hotel.
"It's like if you went in to buy a car and you wanted to get a Mercedes and they didn't have a Mercedes dealer," said Holtze, who is developing the hotel with Whitney Kerr, Sr., senior director at Cushman & Wakefield.
Hotel Bravo — the working name for the project — would have 145 rooms and suites, including a presidential suite, and complement the Kauffman Center. Performing arts would be an integral part of the hotel the way art is at the new 21c Museum Hotel Kansas City, previously known as the Savoy, Holtze said.
The hotel would sit on the east side of Wyandotte Street between 16th and 17th streets. Kerr said the land is under contract for developers to purchase from the Kauffman Foundation.
With wrap-around glass windows in the rooms, a high-end restaurant, concierge areas on each floor and high-end wood, stone and leather finishes throughout the building, the hotel they want to build is classic but modern and refined but timeless. It'll serve the high-end travelers Holtze said the city isn't currently serving.
"If you think of that segment as a separate market, this hotel has the potential working together with the Kauffman Center to actually create a new market — not to steal from other hotels but to bring in more people from the region and from the nation," he said.
To build it, they're asking for tax increment financing, an economic development tool that allows developers to use increasing property and economic activity taxes generated by the rising value of the redeveloped land toward the costs of the project.
About $20 million, or nearly a third, of the project would be paid for by the TIF. The developers said they've raised $16.5 million in equity and will borrow the remaining $27 million.
"If the city really wants to have fine hotels like we once had in this community, then this is basically a joint undertaking of the community and ourselves," Kerr said.
Kerr and Holtze would get a 75 percent break on those future property taxes if the TIF is approved, and 25 percent of the value would go to the city and independent taxing jurisdictions, including the Kansas City Public Library and Kansas City Public Schools. That's because of an ordinance sponsored by Kansas City Councilman Quinton Lucas.
Crosby Kemper, III, director of the Kansas City Public Library, said he thought the hotel was a great idea.
"I'm just confused about why anyone would think that it's good public policy for a fairly complete subsidy for a luxury hotel for money that would go to social services," Kemper said.
He said he would have liked to get a call earlier in the process and have an opportunity to truly negotiate with developers and the city.
"They're talking about a level of luxury that is quite extraordinary and yet they don't want to pay the level of taxes that people in $30,000 homes on the east side are paying," Kemper said.
Kerr and Holtze argue the hotel isn't financially feasible without a TIF incentive with costs north of $435,000 per room. And the 25 percent cut the city and other taxing jurisdictions would get is more tax money than they get from the property now.
Building the hotel and supporting the Kauffman Center, they said, will help drive economic development.
Holtze, a longtime developer in Denver, said the city used TIF to move its downtown forward.
"Now, Denver doesn't have to do it as much," Holtze said.