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Kansas City, Petitioners Back In Court In Downtown Convention Hotel Battle

The new Hyatt in Denver is a recent example of a public-private partnership to add to convention sales.
Photo courtesy of Hyatt Hotel Corp.
The new Hyatt in Denver is a recent example of a public-private partnership to add to convention sales.

Petitioners trying to force a vote on the downtown Kansas City hotel deal were back in court Tuesday.

The group Citizens for Responsible Government sued the city in Jackson County Court late last year after the Kansas City Council wouldn’t put their question on the ballot.

“While the city completely respects the petition process – that’s why it’s in the charter, it’s an important part of the democratic process – you cannot use the petition drive to overturn certain laws,” says city spokesman Chris Hernandez.

Hernandez says in this case, a public ballot on the proposed convention hotel deal would be in direct conflict with tax increment financing law. A vote at this point could also force city officials to renege on contracts they signed with hotel developers shortly after the petition was filed on Sept. 3.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Jonathan Sternberg, accused the city of trying to play “gotcha” with the petitioners, although he conceded they didn’t get all the signatures they needed until later that month.

“To all these individuals who plainly feel the city is wasting taxpayer funds or wants to ensure the city doesn’t waste taxpayer funds, it’s very important to keep the city in check,” Sternberg says.

A lawyer for the hotel development team responded that the petitioners waited until well after the city council passed a memorandum of understanding in June signaling its intent to enter into contracts.

“You’d have to be asleep or dead not to know about the city’s interest in convention hotels,” John Kilroy told Jackson County Circuit Judge Jennifer Phillips.

The city has committed $35 million for the new 800-room hotel, which Hyatt will operate. Most of the city’s investment will come from the business and tourism tax.

Elle Moxley is a reporter for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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