Shriners coming back to Kansas City for their big convention in 2020

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Fez hats and little cars will descend on Kansas City for five days in the middle of the 2020 summer.

City leaders announced on Thursday that Shriners International, a philanthropic group made conspicuous by unique burgundy hats, will bring an estimated 20,000 members to town for its Imperial Session July 5-9, 2020.

The Shriners, a fraternal order that got its start in 1870 in Florida, rotates its annual confab each year. The last time it came to Kansas City was 1976, the same year the city hosted the Republican National Convention.

In those days, Kansas City was considered a premier convention destination. That distinction has eroded over the years, despite millions of dollars worth of investments in convention facilities. 

Kansas City officials think a forthcoming convention hotel, an 800-room project that’s currently seeking private financing, will reverse its convention fortunes. So far, Kansas City has announced a string of conventions that are coming to town once the convention hotel in the Crossroads Arts District opens in 2018. 

The Shriners convention is the biggest of the latest convention wins for Kansas City. Jeff Sowder, a Kansas native who today carries the title Imperial Potentate within the fraternal order’s hierarchy, said the forthcoming convention hotel played a role in its decision to choose Kansas City.

When asked how many conventions Kansas City would need to attract in order for this newest investment to work financially, Mayor Sly James (who is big on “facts and data”) said he had no idea. It’s also not clear what concessions Kansas City or its tourism bureau, VisitKC, made to the Shriners to attract them to Kansas City. A spokeswoman for VisitKC said those details are confidential.

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