Shriners, Baptists Cancel Big KC Conventions Because of Covid

The new Loews was considered a primary reason that the Shriners chose to come to KC in 2015; it remains unopened and the Shriners have cancelled because of Covid-19.

By Kevin Collison

Two major conventions scheduled to come to downtown Kansas City this summer, the Shriners International and National Baptists, have cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic, an estimated $30 million blow to the local economy.

During a sobering briefing to the Downtown Council board Thursday, Jason Fulvi, president and CEO of Visit KC, told the group the city has lost 70 conventions so far this year through July due to the pandemic at an economic loss estimated at $123 million.

Fulvi added another four conventions scheduled from July 27 through October are all “teetering on whether to cancel or not.”

The Visit KC official also said the occupancy rate for downtown hotels have dropped to 10 percent vs 68 percent a year ago. Hotel revenues have plummeted 94 percent.

The downtown convention and hospitality industry has been devastated since mid-March, when the coronavirus outbreak began forcing public health restrictions and business closings.

Several downtown hotels, including the Downtown Marriott, Sheraton at Crown Center, Crossroads Hotel and 21C Savoy, have closed temporarily, and the opening of the 800-room Loews Kansas City Convention Hotel, scheduled for April 2, has been indefinitely postponed.

The 970-room Downtown Marriott is closed until at least May 11, a casualty of the business shutdowns prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In late April, Visit KC, the regional organization promoting tourism and conventions, was forced to reduce its workforce by 44 percent through a mixture of furloughs and job eliminations, affecting 21 of its 47 full-time positions.

The loss of the Shriners, which was expected to bring 11,000 delegates to Kansas City from  July 5-9, not only represents a major loss in revenue, an estimated $15.6 million, but a symbolic blow as well to the city’s aspiration to become a major convention destination.

The Shriners announced their decision to come to Kansas City in 2015, shortly after the city reached a deal to build the new convention hotel. That decision was seen as justification for the $322.7 million hotel project, which received significant city tax incentives.

But in a letter dated April 22, Jeffrey Sowder, imperial president of the Shriners, announced the cancellation.

“A decision of this magnitude is never easy, but every member of the Joint Boards felt this was consistent with the most current public health information and governmental ‘Stay at Home’ orders intended to protect the best interests of everyone concerned,” Sowder said.

He also said the decision was made in consultation with the Kansas City Department of Public Health.

The Baptist Convention was scheduled for June 22-26 and was expected to draw 20,000 delegates with an estimated economic impact of $14.4 million.

The announcement on the organization’s webpage included a reference to the New Testament: “Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer…”

Visit KC is in discussions with about 50 organizations to try to reschedule their meetings or events for later this year or early 2021, according to Derek Klaus, director of communication. He said they total about 54,000 room nights.

(Editor’s note: CityScene KC is now a paid subscription publication, please consider subscribing.)

Don’t miss any downtown news, sign up for our weekly CityScene KC email review here.