By Kevin Collison
Loews Hotel Chairman Jonathan Tisch strongly backed an ambitious plan to deck part of the South Loop where it slices through downtown at the annual luncheon of the Downtown Council Thursday.
“When I think about a big idea, it’s right outside this convention center and that is a cap over the highway,” Tisch told the audience in the Kay Barnes Ballroom at Bartle Hall.
“That is a project that needs to happen.”
Tisch and Jeffrey J. Jones II, CEO of H&R Block, participated in a “keynote conversation” at the Downtown Council event. More than 900 people attended, and Missouri Gov. Mike Parson also addressed the audience.
Tisch also said Kansas City will have to step up its marketing game to capitalize on its investment in the 800-room Loews Convention Center Hotel now under construction and the 1,600 additional downtown hotel rooms recently completed or in the pipeline.
He described Visit KC, the area’s primary tourism and convention business generator, as being “underfunded.”
“There has to be a commitment to understanding the competitive nature of this business and making sure that Visit KC has the resources available to get the kinds of groups that want to be in Kansas City, that view this as a great destination,” Tisch said.
“There have to be more resources for VisitKC. It’s an important, essential partner of how this city has to grow in this industry.”
In a recent interview with CityScene KC, Jason Fulvi, the new CEO and president of Visit KC, also said his agency’s budget needed to be increased significantly.
During his presentation, Tisch also revealed a virtual reality video tour of the $322.7 million hotel now under construction at 17th and Wyandotte. It’s slated to open in spring 2020.
The governor repeated the themes of his recent State of the State speech at which he said rebuilding Missouri’s infrastructure and improving workforce development would be his primary goals.
Supporters of downtown revitalization were pleased Parson attended the gathering. His predecessor, Eric Greitens, was considered anti-city after he vetoed state funding for the proposed UMKC Downtown Conservatory, essentially killing the endeavor.
Parson also saluted former Mayor Kay Barnes, who received the Downtown Council‘s J. Philip Kirk Jr. Award this year.
The award is named after the late leader of DST Realty, and honors leaders who have helped revive downtown.
“Fourteen years ago, I was at Kay’s house,” Parson said.
“She was talking about her vision for Kansas City and telling me as a young legislator how important downtown was and her vision of where this town was headed. Fourteen years later, those visions are coming true.”
Under Barnes leadership, several of the most important initiatives that helped redevelop downtown were launched including the Power & Light District, new H&R Block headquarters and the Sprint Center.
The former mayor praised Phil Kirk, noting he had been the best man at her first wedding.
“Keep up the good work,” she told the audience. “We live in a great city so let’s continue to grow and be even stronger in the future.”
Also honored at the event were four individuals who received the Downtown Council Urban Hero Awards: Chris Goode, founder and CEO of Ruby Jean’s Juicery; Christopher Harris, founder of the Harris Park Midtown Sports & Activity Center; Cheryl Kimmi, executive director of KC Creates, and Kite Singleton, an longtime rail-transit advocate.
The proposal to build a cap with a park above the South Loop advocated by Tisch has received renewed attention over the past year.
Last March, a study by HNTB commissioned by the Downtown Council estimated a four-block section of the freeway could be decked and landscaped for $139 million, significantly less than the previous $200 million estimate.
Last summer, officials said they’d approach the Missouri Department of Transportation to seek funding assistance and had scaled back the proposal to three blocks.
As recently as two weeks ago, City Manager Troy Schulte cited the ambitious proposal during a luncheon meeting.
Tisch observed the city has benefited from good leadership in recent years and hoped the city would continue that trend in the upcoming mayoral election.
“We all have to be careful of who we elect to office,” he said. “When I think about the leadership that Mayor James and his predecessors have salvaged to get Kansas City where it is today, that is dynamic.
“Enlightened elected officials make a difference.”
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