It’s Groundhog Day for the KC Convention Center
Kansas Citians are being told that if we don’t hurry up and subsidize the construction of a new 800-room convention hotel, we will lose out on millions of dollars of convention business. For voters who lived here in 2002, it must seem like the movie Groundhog Day.
In 2002, residents of Kansas City were told that if they did not approve a measure to build a 130,000-square-foot addition to Bartle Hall the city would lose millions in convention business. The campaign featured statements from convention managers who said they may have to leave Kansas City. One mailer, available here, included two such statements:
“Ace Hardware will no longer be able to host conventions in Kansas City until the Convention Center is expanded . . .” —Ace Hardware Conventions Manager
Taxpayers did vote to expand Bartle Hall, but Ace Hardware’s convention never returned to Kansas City. A second quote in the mailer makes the same point:
“We understand that a 40,000 sq. foot ballroom is being considered—the city needs to solidify its plans and begin construction as soon as possible to continue meeting our needs. Our continued commitment to Kansas City depends on the City’s plans for expansion . . .” —Associate Executive Director, Vocational Industrial Clubs of America (VICA)
A representative for VICA, also known as SkillsUSA, recently told Amy Hawley at KSHB that it left Kansas City last year because of insufficient “hotel space and convention space.” Building a convention hotel now will not meet its needs; the company won’t be back regardless of what the city does with a hotel.
In fact, the 2002 mailer starts off with a statement that is almost identical to the argument being made today:
Current bookings for future conventions is the best indicator of convention and tourism business in Kansas City five to ten years from now. Our future bookings are down dramatically and the reason is clear—without a new ballroom/general assembly meeting room, companies and organizations will continue to pass over Kansas City.
Replace “ballroom/general assembly meeting room” with “convention hotel” and nothing has changed in 13 years. The Bartle Hall expansion failed to be the boon that was hoped for. There is no real reason to expect that a new hotel will increase convention business in Kansas City, especially when it likely will make us one of the most expensive convention cities in the country.