A ‘Hotel California’ for Bartle Hall
For classic rock fans, the Eagles’ ballad “Hotel California” brings with it the surreal image of a roadside inn populated by tortured, captive souls. The song describes the fate of the hotel’s residents, paradoxically opining that after you check in, “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”
The Eagles couldn’t have written a more succinct fiscal description of the $300 million hotel that Kansas City officials want to build downtown, a project likely to be backed in some way by the city’s taxpayers. But Kansas Citians shouldn’t let themselves be captive to another “big idea” pet project promoted by its political class, and should press city officials to drop the plan.
Consider where the hotel would be built: between the recently expanded Bartle Hall Convention Center and the recently constructed Power & Light District (P&LD). City leaders, including Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association President Rick Hughes, hoped Bartle’s 2004 expansion would double the number of conventions the city hosted each year.
Yet conventions haven’t doubled.
The P&LD now has the city on the hook for $10 million in public subsidies each year until 2033, because the district’s present revenues aren’t sufficient to fund its existence.
Even Bill Lucas, president of the city’s hotel steering committee, can’t guarantee that the project wouldn’t be a financial sinkhole. “We’d about have to double our convention bookings” to make the hotel feasible, Lucas recently said.
Let’s recap: 1) The Bartle expansion was supposed to double the number of conventions the city booked, but didn’t. 2) The P&LD was supposed to revitalize downtown, but is now draining millions each year from the budget. 3) As Mayor Sly James put it in February, a hotel is now being proposed to “offset some of the problems” in the P&LD. 4) But, in order to save the P&LD, the hotel needs Bartle … to double its convention bookings.
And around we go.
The project doesn’t make sense on an economic level, either. The fact that private actors haven’t built this hotel suggests that there isn’t a market for one. Moreover, if subsidies from city officials distort Kansas City’s hotel market by giving preferential treatment to the project, existing hotels will see business siphoned away. That isn’t economic growth; that’s economic suffocation.
The project is simply a bad idea. If taxpayers want to avoid getting trapped in their own freshly built Hotel California, they should instead force their political class to book them at the Hotel Free Market. I hear it’s a lovely place. Much less expensive, too.
Patrick Ishmael is a policy analyst at the Show-Me Institute, an independent think tank promoting free-market solutions for Missouri public policy.