How Will the Convention Hotel Help Taxpayers?
Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the planned convention hotel in Kansas City does increase convention business. How much more convention business will the city need to repay the investment? No one is saying.
The Power & Light District plan was put together by City Manager Wayne Cauthen, and it was done largely out of the sight of the public. It was too late to make changes when the subsequent city manager, Troy Schulte, told us that in order for the Power & Light District to be self-sustaining, as voters were promised, “You needed Plaza-level holiday-level sales every day of the year.”
Seeking to avoid that same mistake, the 2010 convention hotel effort received lots of scrutiny, including reports from consultants and financiers. Bill Lucas, then president of the city’s hotel steering committee, said, “We’d about have to double our convention bookings” to make the hotel feasible. The project did not go forward because people were skeptical we’d make the goal.
This time the city is rushing a vote on the project to meet an arbitrary political deadline. There are no reports from consultants; no reports from financiers. One councilmember even complained about the short time available to make a decision.
While no one is saying how much convention business will have to increase to repay the investment, consider the impact of TIF giveaways to developers:
- Visitor money spent in the convention hotel itself won’t help us, as we’re giving all the taxes generated from those sales to the developers through Tax Increment Financing (TIF).
- If convention visitors wander to the Power & Light District for dinner and drinks, they’ll pay a high tax rate, but the city is already giving that tax money to Cordish through their TIF. The city won’t see much from it.
- If visitors head north to the River Market, the same will apply—we’re giving at least half of the tax revenue there to the developers.
- Maybe they’ll ride the streetcar. The streetcar will be free, so we won’t see any tourism dollars there (although it appears visitors who stay at the convention hotel will be paying 1 percent to the streetcar Transportation Development District).
- Maybe visitors will go to Country Club Plaza. That will be great, but half of the tax revenue generated from their purchases will go to the developers named in the Plaza TIF.
Therein lies the problem with Kansas City’s frequent use of TIF; we’re hollowing out our tax base. We claim that these developments will help the city, but in order to get the developments, we give away the tax revenue. Kansas City will likely need to more than double our convention bookings to make this financially sound, but no one is saying. This is no way to run a city.