Healthy debate is how good decisions are made and how all voices are heard.
However, the recent effort to stall plans for a downtown convention hotel, is more about making noise than being heard.
The issue of whether to build the first downtown convention hotel since 1985 was raised in the Funkhouser administration before I took office in 2011. Those efforts bogged down when it became clear that every hotel development team wanted the city to contribute between $75 – $125 million cash to any deal.
We were losing out to other cities on major conferences and conventions because we simply couldn’t accommodate the scale. I was clear in my support for the need for a new convention hotel. Listening to the debate for years, I knew that our city needed an investment of this kind. But not at the prices developers were asking.
Since taking office, we have worked effectively to fill a hole in our tourism and convention economy in a way that is a good deal for KC taxpayers.
After nearly 6 years, I’m proud to say we’re in the homestretch, just a few months away from an anticipated groundbreaking on the 800 bedroom, $311 million dollar convention hotel.
This is a good deal for Kansas City and our taxpayers. There are no General Fund dollars allocated to the project. There is no new tax required. The land being transferred from the City to the developers is currently in use as a parking lot. And the TIF arrangement is a balanced tool needed for the project’s success.
The hotel itself will create 350 new jobs. It will serve as a catalyst for Kansas City tourism, an industry that employs more than 40,000 Kansas Citians.
Planning for conventions 2, 3, or 5 years down the road is underway and our progress on this hotel project has attracted the interest and consideration of national and international conferences already.
This project has been years in the making.
So, it’s telling that just last week a special interest group – with a history of dividing issues along political ideology rather than playing a role in uniting our city around ideas that promote progress – filed paperwork in an ill-conceived attempt to stall the downtown convention hotel, potentially bringing the deal to a screeching halt.
The reason? It’s simple, political games.
Their attempt to stop this project in 2015 resulted in a lawsuit which they lost. The court said, amongst other things, that their initiative petition was unconstitutional on its face and overly vague.
This is the same group that opposed the streetcar when it was being developed. The streetcar will celebrate its one year anniversary this week. It has surpassed even the most optimistic expectations for ridership, economic investment, and business satisfaction from those along the downtown starter line.
This group was also front and center in opposing last year’s renewal of our city’s Earnings Tax, a critical source of the City’s general fund used for public safety and essential services. Failing to renew it would have made our streets less safe and left our city without viable options to address the funding shortfall.
And earlier this spring, this same group opposed the three General Obligation Bond questions that the public overwhelmingly passed. These will bring essential infrastructure maintenance to all corners of the city, and address needs our city has kicked down the road for decades.
In each case, and it’s the same with their effort now with the hotel – their solution is to say “No”. You and I know we didn’t build the momentum we now enjoy as a city by saying “no”. We renewed our national and international reputation by being bold and addressing challenges ignored for too long.
Simply put, we can’t afford obstructionists unwilling to share in the work of progress. We can’t afford games.
Already, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, located right here in Kansas City – has decided not to pursue bringing its convention to Kansas City in 2020. The group has not hosted it’s annual meeting of more than 2,000 people in Kansas City since 1999.
A few years ago, SkillsUSA outgrew Kansas City capacity, and moved on to Orlando.
The American Academy of Family Physicians currently hosts a convention in Kansas City, but wants to bring its larger annual convention to town – they can’t do that given our current capacity and this project is being watched closely to that end.
We have made amazing strides in Kansas City in recent years. And our downtown is serving as an anchor for our community’s resurgence.
The streetcar is a model the nation over, attracting planners and representatives from across the country to learn how our successful model was built. Investment continues along the line, increasingly with no incentives or taxpayer dollars required. Businesses along the line are seeing increased revenue and hiring more people as a result.
The Sprint center is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year – and it is a success that even its biggest supporters couldn’t have imagined. It remains one of the top venues in the world.
And just last week, the Missouri legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill funding the proposed downtown UMKC conservatory for the arts. This move is estimated to bring $1.1 billion in economic activity to our city and will be located just a few blocks from the proposed convention hotel.
If a bipartisan coalition within the Missouri Legislature can see the value in what we’re doing here in KC then we should, as a city, recognize we have more to gain from working together than playing political games.
In the coming weeks, this issue will proceed towards the final stages of financing and onto ground breaking.
I encourage residents to take the opportunity to learn more about this project. It’s prudent. It’s high value. It’s critical. And it’s the absolute best deal our city could ask for while getting a world-class convention hotel that we need.
This is no time for politics. This is a time to take another step forward as a community, and as a world-class city. I am asking residents to REJECT this referendum effort. The time for politics has passed. Let’s move forward, together.
CLAIMS v. FACTS
CLAIM: This downtown hotel project is estimated to take $167,000,000 in taxpayer’s cash, land and freebies.
FACT: There are four ways the City is investing in this project.
- $35 million dollars in NON-general fund dollars, allocated from the existing Convention & Tourism tax revenue which exists specifically to support tourism.
- Land transferred from the City’s ownership, to the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority (LCRA). The land is currently a parking lot that generates no tax dollars.
- Catering rights will be managed and determined by hotel.
- Tax Increment Financing (TIF) proceeds to offset some project costs. These dollars are generated by the hotel itself.
CLAIM: So far the City and the developers have elected to keep the partners, investors and financing details secret.
FACT: Since 2015, there have been no fewer than 20 public meetings about this project, including: Seven meetings prior to passage by City Council in July 2015 followed by three meetings to debate the initial petition initiative. Subsequently, meetings before the TIF Commission, LCRA, two zoning department meetings, as well as public presentations before the Downtown Council, and the Crossroads Neighborhood Association.
Every stage of this project has been executed in the public manner required. Currently, the financing structure of the deal is being worked on by the investors and developers. These are the terms negotiated between private investors and are not subject to public review until they are completed. The City’s terms have been laid out and are known. However, the current referendum process has slowed, and threatens, the progress made towards finalizing the financing structure.
CLAIM: Taxpayers should have a say in the matter since we are footing over 50% of the $300,000,000 price tag.
FACT: This is categorically false. The City’s investment is limited and strategic, and will provide targeted resources at different stages of the project. At no point will half the project be funded by the City, or taxpayer dollars. The TIF dollars to be used in this project, do not exist and will not exist unless the hotel is built, generating new tax revenue.
CLAIM: The previous effort to petition failed in court, and the judge has since been proven wrong.
FACT: Their attempt to stop this project in 2015 resulted in a lawsuit which they lost. The court said, amongst other things, that their initiative petition was unconstitutional on its face and overly vague. The judge in that case was not “proven wrong”, the Supreme Court of Missouri never reversed the judge’s decision, they simply changed the procedure going forward.