By Kevin Collison
A ceremonial groundbreaking for the new Loews Kansas City Convention Center Hotel is scheduled for March 1, and if all goes well, the “four-star plus” hotel should be completed by late April 2020.
Attorney Mike Burke, who began championing the current project in 2011, told a monthly luncheon of the Downtowners the endeavor survived a gauntlet that included two City Councils, two initiative petitions, a lawsuit and two hotel developers before finally coming to fruition.
“It was not an easy project to put together,” Burke observed, adding the city had been trying to get a convention hotel built at that location since billionaire Ross Perot Jr. took a run at the project 30 years ago.
Work actually began at the 3-acre site three weeks ago. The 800-room hotel is being built across from the Bartle Hall Grand Ballroom on the block bound by Truman Road to 17th Street, between Wyandotte Street and Baltimore Avenue.
The American Hereford Association has vacated its building there, and the cliff that straddles the property has been prepared for construction.
Most of the work this year is expected to be concrete foundations for what will be a 24-story hotel tower and a 450-space garage. The final design documents are expected to be completed by this June.
Burke told the group the major funding hurdle was overcome when New York-based Loews committed $50 million to the project, making it the majority owner and occupant. The total private equity in the deal is $59.7 million.
Other funding sources are a $110 million loan from Wells Fargo Bank, $110 million in public financing, $35 million in cash from the city that will be repaid by the hotel bed tax, and a city land contribution valued at $7 million.
Burke said the public spaces in the new hotel, including its bar, restaurant and outdoor terrace, will have panoramic views of the downtown skyline.
In addition to the hotel-operated restaurant, an independent third-party restaurant is planned for the corner of Truman Road and Baltimore.
While the hotel is expected to be a fundamental new asset for the city’s convention industry, Burke also believes it should benefit from its proximity to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
“We undersell Kansas City as an arts venue,” he said. “We hope to book many nights for performances at the Kauffman Center. It will be an arts hotel.”
Other features of the hotel will include a full-service spa open to hotel guests and the public, as well as a fitness center overlooking downtown.
Burke noted the Shriners already have committed for a 20,000-person convention the first summer of the hotel’s operation, and he predicted other conventions that have left Kansas City because of lack of hotel rooms will return.
In response to a question from the audience, Burke said he doesn’t believe the recent departure of Ronnie Burt as president and CEO of Visit KC, will disrupt bookings for the new hotel.
“It’s going full steam,” he said. “The (Visit KC) board will shortly announce an interim director and a national search for a permanent director.”
The Downtowners also honored Burke with its annual “Jim Davis Award,” named after the late Kansas City Business Journal reporter.
Davis, who died from cancer in 2008, emphasized coverage of downtown development and urged Kansas Citians to continue rebuilding downtown in a farewell message before he died.
When asked what the next steps should be for downtown, Burke said he was “sorely disgusted” that Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens had vetoed state funding for the planned UMKC Downtown Conservatory project.
The attorney said he’d like to see two major downtown infrastructure proposals move forward: decking Interstate 670, better known as the South Loop, to reconnect the central business district with the Crossroads, and replacing the obsolete Buck O’Neil Bridge.
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