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So a quick summary:
Consultant suggests convention-center expansion. Expansion disappoints. Consultant suggests 1,000-room hotel. No one questions consultant about previous suggestion. Instead, city officials gleefully accept hotel recommendation and hire the consultant to conduct further study.
The hotel, in fact, received an "urgent" stamp from the City Council. On June 18, 2009, on a day when four council members and Mayor Mark Funkhouser were absent, the council allocated $500,000 for professional services — consultants, basically — relating to the hotel project. Councilman Terry Riley asked his colleagues to hold the matter one week. No, he was told. Time was of the essence.
At the same time that it appropriated the $500,000, the council created the steering committee, which instantly started looking for places to build the hotel. Apparently, the ribbon-cutting can't come soon enough.
The site selection got under way before anyone had done a serious cost-benefit analysis. No one knows how a 1,000-room hotel might affect the existing inventory of subsidy-reliant hotels downtown. (The Marriott-Muehlebach complex, the Hotel Phillips, the Crowne Plaza, the Holiday Inn and the Hilton President all receive tax-increment financing.) It's all rising-tide-lifts-all-boats guesswork at this point.
But even guesswork can be beneficial for the people involved.
Around the time that the hotel steering committee was coming together, Circo received a $1,000 contribution from a developer. The developer was Ron Jury, who was beginning to push for putting the hotel on the Kansas City Power & Light Building block.
Later, the steering committee decided that it needed a communications pro. The job went to Kim Carlos, who had advised Circo's political campaign. When I reported the relationship on The Pitch's news blog, Circo assured me that she had stayed out of the process leading to Carlos' hiring. Of course.
The consultants at Conventions, Sports & Leisure also were in line for another payday. Last fall, the steering committee hired its related entity, Convention Center Hotel Advisors, to come up with a viable financing plan.
This bears repeating: The consultants who have told city officials that they need to build a convention hotel have steadily picked up more work based on that recommendation.
It's all pretty cozy. Downtown real-estate pro Paul Copaken serves on the convention hotel financial review subcommittee. Jury recently announced that Copaken's company, Copaken White & Blitt, will join his team in pursuit of the development rights to the hotel project.
Lacking hard data about the financial sense of the hotel, the steering committee is already designing the marketing campaign for a tax increase.
During one of the site-selection meetings, Bill George, the steering committee co-chair, talked about leveraging voters' warm feelings about the Power & Light Building — a Kansas City icon since 1931.
But, hey, all these meetings are taking place in public. So everything's OK, right?
One person who has developed a distaste for the process is veteran real-estate man Whitney Kerr Sr. He says he does not want the city to make a mistake it will come to regret.
"We don't have that many opportunities to do the right thing," he tells me.
Do not mistake Kerr for an unbiased observer. He has promoted a site south of the freeway loop for the convention hotel.
Kerr can tick off a list of reasons why the current home of the American Hereford Association, which sits across Wyandotte Street from the recent Bartle Hall expansion, is superior. He notes that the city already owns two-thirds of that block. That site also has the potential to use federal tax credits for developments in low-income areas.