Kansas City flicks away petition initiative on convention hotel, but City Council adds conditions to the deal

%{[ data-embed-type=”image” data-embed-id=”” data-embed-element=”aside” ]}%

Alissia Canady and Katheryn Shields emerged as leaders, it appears, on the Kansas City, Missouri, City Council as it dispensed with a petition initiative to put the downtown convention hotel to a vote.

Canady, a first-term councilwoman representing Kansas City’s 5th District, pressed the hotel development team to agree that at least 13 percent of the construction workforce on the project must be Kansas City residents. Moreover, 30 percent of employees, once the 800-room hotel opens, must be Kansas City residents.

That’s the deal Canady sought to include more Kansas Citians in the hotel project, given that more than half of the $311 million project is financed from public services.

Developers are seeking a convention hotel near Bartle Hall, putting Kansas City in an ongoing race with other cities to build new convention facilities to attract out-of-town spenders. Kansas City, once a top convention city, has seen its position drop among peer cities.

Shields, who returned to the KCMO City Council this year, lobbied for an agreement with the hotel developers that no general fund money can be used to finance its construction or operations. The hotel’s developers include Mike Burke, a local development attorney; Steve Rattner, a New York financier; and Tim O’Byrne, a Denver real estate developer.

City leaders impressed upon the public that the general fund would be kept away from the hotel project. Indeed, a public financing package that involved $50 million from the convention and tourism tax, two tax-increment-financing plans on the project and an exclusive catering contract, minimized the general fund’s exposure. But it was conceivable that general fund dollars could be at play under the previous agreement.

But now the general fund will be off limits to the convention hotel, at least in principle. Council members later noted that the deal hadn’t yet been memorialized in writing.

Citizens for Responsible Government, a watchdog group, had gathered more than 2,000 signatures that looked to put the public financing for the convention hotel to a public vote in April. 

City Council members heeded city attorney Bill Geary’s advice: The CFRG’s petition was unconstitutional and illegal. It sought, Geary said, to breach the city’s contract with the hotel developer and expose the city to a lawsuit.

Dan Fowler, a Northland councilman and a lawyer, agreed with Geary’s analysis.

“I think many of us have qualms about this project,” Fowler said, noting that the previous City Council had approved the bulk of the project before leaving office.

But, he added, “I don’t want to be part of an illegal act, which is exactly what’s being asked for here.”

Quinton Lucas, a 3rd District at-large councilman and also a lawyer, agreed with the legal analysis but praised those who gathered petitions.

“The thing I want this council to remember going forward is these folks weren’t necessarily kooky or coming up with an interesting idea,” Lucas said. “They just wanted to be heard.”

Categories: News