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April 21--Nearly two years after it was unveiled, and after a lawsuit and other setbacks, a proposed downtown convention hotel sailed Thursday through its final City Council approval and is a few months from an anticipated groundbreaking.

This is a great milestone," said Mike Burke, attorney for KC Hotel Developers, who are preparing to develop the $311 million, 800-room Hyatt Regency Hotel near Bartle Hall, which would be the city's first new convention hotel since 1985. "This is one step closer to getting where we can break ground this summer."

The city council voted 11-0 in favor of a development plan for the hotel, to be built at 16th and Wyandotte Streets. Council members Heather Hall and Teresa Loar, who have been major skeptics about the hotel, were absent for the vote.

It is the final regulatory approval needed, and allows the developer to get a guaranteed maximum construction price (expected in late May) and finalize its private financing. The city is contributing $35 million cash to the project (which will actually cost about $2 million in convention and tourism taxes per year over a 25-year bond.) But that city money doesn't go into the deal until the private financing is all in place.

The hotel plan was first unveiled with fanfare in May 2015, and the financing for it was approved by the previous city council in July 2015. A citizens group that opposed the financing deal sued in late 2015 and tried to force a public vote on the project. While that lawsuit was dismissed, it delayed the project by about a year.

Councilman Dan Fowler, who took office with the new council in August 2015, said he's heard from constituents who still doubt the hotel is needed and worry about possible adverse competition with other hotels.

But Fowler said the best thing the city can do now is work to make sure the hotel is successful.

Mayor Sly James, who pushed for a convention hotel deal since he was first elected in 2011, said he's confident the project will continue Kansas City's momentum for bringing in large conventions that will also benefit other downtown hotels.

"It will make a big difference," James said. He emphasized that the deal does not involve any general fund money or guarantee of the bond debt.

"If the hotel does great, everybody is happy and I believe it will be great," he said. "If it fails, however, we're not on the hook for that."

Councilman Scott Taylor, chair of the council's planning, development and economic development committee, predicted the hotel will in fact help other hotels, restaurants and small businesses as it brings more conventions and tourists to town. He cited information from Visit KC, the city's primary tourism agency, showing that the lack of major 21st century convention hotel cost Kansas City 79 conventions between 2014 and 2016.

"We are elated that we are one step closer to getting a shovel in the ground for the convention hotel," Visit KC President Ronnie Burt said in a statement. "We are eager to share this news with new and existing clients."

Burke said if all the pieces come together, the hotel groundbreaking could be in late summer, with anticipated completion in late 2019 or early 2020.

Lynn Horsley: 816-226-2058, @LynnHorsley

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