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Is a $300 million downtown convention hotel worth it?

Mike Shanin interviews Mike Burke, a key planner in the downtown convention hotel set to open in 2018, on KCPT's "Ruckus"

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In 2018, Kansas City will formally open an 800-room, $300 million convention center hotel downtown. However, this project does not fall solely upon the private sector, such as the Hyatt corporation which will run the hotel. Kansas City has given the project tax breaks and other potential benefits including exclusive catering rights. Civic leaders such as Mike Burke, who has been fundamental in the planning of the hotel, and Mayor Sly James firmly believe that the hotel is worth all of the benefits from the city it has been receiving and will solve our appeal problem with convention planners.

“Over the last few decades, we have slipped considerably on the national basis [for conventions] because the meeting managers come, they say, ‘I love your city, but where do my people stay?'” Burke said.

Burke is confident that a new hotel is what Kansas City needs to convince meeting managers that the city has the facilities they need to host big-paying conventions. Although the project is still three years away from completion, there have been some promising proposals for the hotel already.

“Just since the hotel was announced, Ronnie Burt, who is Director of VisitKC, says he’s gotten two dozen calls of people interested in Kansas City based on the new hotel. He actually had one call from a major convention that had written off the city, and now is putting us back on the list to consider,” Burke said.

While leaders like Burke and James are excited about this project, some are a little more wary. Woody Cozad, president of the Cozad Company and a regular on “Ruckus,” is skeptical of the long-term investment in the convention business in Kansas City and as a whole.

“In 2010, 86 million people nationwide attended conventions and meetings. That sounds impressive until you realize a decade earlier it was 126 million,” Cozad said. “Austin built an 800-rom hotel, projecting 300,000 room rentals a year. They’ve never reached 200,000. The projections won’t come true. We may get some conventions we wouldn’t otherwise have gotten, but overall you’re not going to come close to paying for it.”

Other than concerns about the hotel’s success, there are concerns about its impact on the local economy, particularly in the catering business should the hotel receive exclusive catering rights. The conversation surrounding the catering rights has been one of the most controversial in the planning of the convention hotel.

“I think that [this topic] is controversial and should be of concern because it’s going to hurt local businesses that have enjoyed that business and needed that business over a period of time,” President and CEO of Urban League for Greater Kansas City and regular on “Ruckus,” Gwen Grant, said.

Check out “Ruckus” for more information regarding the convention center hotel and other news, and catch “Ruckus” on KCPT every Thursday at 7 p.m.

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