Kansas City's long quest to build a downtown convention hotel entered its final stretch on Thursday at a groundbreaking event next to the construction site at 17th and Baltimore.
Work actually began a month ago at the 3-acre site, which is across Wyandotte Street from the Bartle Hall Grand Ballroom. A tower crane loomed above a white tent where more than 200 people celebrated what will be the Loews Kansas City Convention Center Hotel, a $322.7 million project expected to be completed by late April 2020.
"We want this building to be part of the vibrant community you've spent generations creating in Kansas City," said Jonathan Tisch, CEO and chairman of Loews.
"The history of this project is legendary," he added. "So many men and women spent years to make sure this would happen."
It was 30 years ago that Texas billionaire Ross Perot Jr. first pursued a convention hotel for the area where the new 800-room, 24-story Loews is under construction. The current effort, led by attorney Mike Burke, began in 2011.
"There were were roadblocks, people saying you couldn't do it," said Kansas City Mayor Sly James. "Every single time, Mike was there to help us get over the hump."
Tisch also praised the mayor's role in bringing the project to fruition.
"Your leadership has been extraordinary," he said. "You had a vision and didn't let any hurdle get in your way."
New York-based Loews is promising a four star-plus star hotel that will elevate the city's opportunities to land large conventions.
"Kansas City is very much in our plans to grow in American cities with a bright future," Tisch said.
"If you look at our 75 year history, we've used our connections to the convention industry as a way to grow our business. We know who the groups are, how to serve them and they like doing business with Loews."
The Shriners already have scheduled a July 2020 convention expected to draw 20,000 attendees.
CiCi Rojas, chairwoman of Visit KC, said the American Association of Laboratory Science was the first group to book Kansas City solely based on the new hotel. It's scheduled to bring 4,500 attendees in October 2021.
"This new property dramatically impacts how we market our city," Rojas said.
Loews currently owns 24 hotels in North America with six more under construction. It's investing $50 million in the Kansas City project. The total private equity in the deal is $59.7 million.
Other funding sources are $220 million in financing by Wells Fargo Bank and Scotiabank, $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.
The hotel will include 75,000 square feet of meeting space; 15,450 square feet of restaurant, bar and retail; a 450-space garage; 9,913 square feet of recreational facilities; and a 4,500-square-foot terrace.
It's expected to create 1,500 construction jobs and 600 to 650 permanent jobs.
Locally based J.E. Dunn Construction is the contractor, and Atlanta-based Cooper Carry is the architect.
"This is a really, really cool day," James said. "It will mark a new chapter in downtown Kansas City. "For everyone who said it couldn't happen, shouldn't happen, you were wrong."
Kevin Collison writes about downtown Kansas City at CitySceneKC.