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New 21c Museum Hotel Kansas City Wraps Hospitality Around Art

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3 minute read

(Updated July 31: AccorHotels, a French firm, has acquired 21cMuseum Hotels, paying $51 million to purchase 85 percent of the firm. 21c founders Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson will retain a 15 percent ownership share. AccorHotels owns 4,000 hotels throughout the world making it the largest hotel group outside the United States.)

By Kevin Collison

Make no mistake, while the historic exterior of the landmark Savoy Hotel and the cherished former Savoy Grill remain intact, the property as a whole has been reinvented to become the new 21c Museum Hotel Kansas City.

The hotel and restaurant at 219 W. Ninth St. formally opened Tuesday after a $47.5 million renovation. It’s the eighth hotel to be opened by Louisville-based 21c Museum Hotel.

“When we came and visited this building it was crying out for help,” said Steve Wilson, who co-founded 21c with his wife Laura Lee Brown.

“It had such a significant historic present and so many people had fond memories of it.”

Guests enter the 21c Kansas City via a ramp framed by a light sculpture titled “Linear Sky.”

The six-story hotel has 120 guest rooms, including 19 suites, a restaurant and lounge christened The Savoy and 6,200 square feet of space dedicated to showcasing contemporary art.

The art is not the typical background ornamentation often found in hotels.

What the 21c Museum people have done is open a provocative art gallery that happens to be located in a hotel.

“Art at the 21c is not decorative, but thought-provoking programming at a museum level,” said Alice Gray Stites, chief curator for the hotel firm.

“21c was founded by people who are passionate about contemporary art and preservation,” she said. “They took that private passion and turned it into a public mission.”

And it’s not just a cultural preserve for hotel guests. The public is very welcome to tour the galleries at any time.

“I like the idea we’ve been able to make art productive and profitable,” Wilson said. “We’ve been able to wrap this exhibition space with hospitality and food and beverage.

“The energy that contemporary art brings to the project is palpable.”

A chandelier sculpture made of uranium glass hangs from the center of the historic Art Nouveau dome.

What was once a macho celebration of Kansas City’s late 19th Century heyday as a cattle town–the old Savoy Hotel opened in 1888 and the Grill in 1903–has been transformed.

The change is felt immediately as guests enter the hotel via a long ramp flanked by the glowing fixtures of a light sculpture entitled “Linear Sky.”

If that isn’t enough to convince you this isn’t your grandfather’s Savoy, a new installation dominating the lobby will.

A huge glowing chandelier titled “Crystal Palace: The Great Exhibition of the Works of all Nuclear Nations” by Ken+Julia Yonetani is suspended beneath the historic Art Nouveau dome.

It’s made from uranium glass and is one of 31 throughout the world installed around the world in nations that use nuclear power.

And while the  Old West murals painted in 1903 by Edward Holslag remain in the former Savoy Grill, an installation by Native American artist Brad Kahlhamer called “Supercatcher, Vast Array” is suspended in front of the murals on the south side of the room.

Each 21c hotel has its own color penguin. Kansas City’s is light blue.

It’s intricate, weblike design of wires and bells resembles a Native American dream catcher, a talisman to protect sleeping people.

The art in the new 21c Museum Kansas City is arranged in three categories. The hotel’s permanent collection, a program called “Limitless,” includes Kahlhamer’s and Yonetani’s works.

There also will be rotating exhibits of local artists in an exhibition program called “Elevate.” Elevate also will include film screenings, artist lectures and poetry readings. Jori Cheville is the onsite museum manager at the 21c.

Finally, an ambitious exhibition program that rotates between all the 21c Museums features art taking on national and global themes. The opening show is called “Refuge” and tackles the current status of global migration.

It’s comprised of works by more than 54 national and international artists.

The seventh floor luxury suite features its own terrace.

While the new 21c Museum Hotel Kansas City is about a mile from the Crossroads Arts District on the north side of downtown, Wilson said that shouldn’t pose a problem.

“It’s not critical for us to be in the arts district to be successful,” Wilson said. “The fact we’re open 24 hours a day to the public is unique.

“People will come here after work, get a drink and then wander through the galleries.”

It’s been more than five years since 21c began pursuing the redevelopment of the old Savoy property, and Wilson is pleased the new incarnation will contribute to the ongoing revitalization of downtown.

“Each piece contributes to the other and we’ll be stronger in the future than today, and were’ certainly more strong that when we first started,” he said.

“We like being part of a catalyst, it’s important to us. There are certainly safer places to develop a hotel.”

The 21c Museum Hotel is expected to begin receiving overnight guests today, July 18.

Dining room hours are Mondays through Thursdays, 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., and Sundays, 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Bar hours are Sundays through Thursdays, 5 p.m. to midnight, Fridays and Saturdays, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.

A hotel suite sitting room at the 21c Museum Hotel.

The former Savoy Grill bar retains its historic flavor.

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