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With New Hyatt Hotel Downtown, Kansas City Will Court Bigger Conventions

Elle Moxley
Kansas City officials announced a new, $300 million hotel for downtown Monday. The new Hyatt will be across the street from the convention center.

The American Nurses Association, the National Society of Black Engineers, SkillsUSA – all groups Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Sly James says would have held conventions in the metro if not for a lack of hotel space.

"They love Kansas City," James says. "They were going to look out at the hotels, and when they came back, they said, 'We can't come.'"

James and other civic leaders hope to remedy the problem with a new, $300 million hotel across the street from the Kansas City Convention Center. 

In announcing the agreement, James emphasized it was the "right time" and "right project" after years of discussions about a downtown convention center hotel.

But the project has its critics, including those who argue the city isn't filling the hotels it has now and doesn't need an additional 800 rooms operated by Hyatt.

"Well, you're not going to fill up the hotel rooms you've got now until you get more people into town," says James. "You're not going to get people into town until you get more hotel rooms."

If that sounds counterintuitive, try thinking about it this way: hotel rooms in Kansas City go unfilled because bigger conventions bypass the metro altogether. 

"There have been other markets, our competitors, that have been for the past decade building convention hotels ... Denver, Baltimore, Indianapolis, Nashville and Austin have all been building convention center hotels. What this does is level the playing field," says Ronnie Burt of Visit KC.

The city will kick in $35 million from existing convention and tourism taxes. 

Patrick Tuohey with the right-leaning Show-Me Institute says he's not opposed to a new downtown hotel, but he doesn't think the city should prop the project up with tax dollars.

"If a private company wants to put their own neck on the line, wants to risk their money and build any kind of structure downtown, that's wonderful. That's great for Kansas City," says Tuohey.

James has promised the city won't use revenue from the general fund to prop up the hotel.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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