The Convention Hotel Deal May Cost Kansas City Conventions
On June 25, we described how the convention hotel deal agreed to by Kansas City officials made the city less attractive to conventions. In short, because the city moved us from open catering, where conventions can seek bids on feeding attendees, to a closed deal where they must use the Hyatt for food service, there was less opportunity for conventions to save money. Yesterday, at least three event planners who have worked in Kansas City wrote to members of the City Council saying that the deal might cause them to go elsewhere. We've reprinted their letters here.
First, from the Evangelical Free Church of America:
I have recently become aware that there are discussions about changing the Kansas City open catering policy at the convention center. As an event planner, I want to express my concern over this potential change.
In 2014, I brought a week-long event to Kansas City for 5,500 students. This event utilized over 8,000 hotel rooms, over $740,000 in catering to the convention center and various other economic impacts. Having an option to select from a list of caterers was the tipping point for choosing KC. In fact, we had such a good experience, we have already signed to return to KC for the same event in 2018.
We would love to make KC our home for this event every 4 years. However, if the open catering policy changes, we will definitely have to revisit our plans. This is a unique feature that makes KC different in a sea of convention centers across the country.
I am asking that you please work to keep your open catering policy.
Should you have any questions or wish to speak with me further, please contact me using the information listed below.
Second, from Educational Testing Service:
Dear Council Members,
ETS and The College Board have found Kansas City to be a wonderful location for our Advanced Placement Readings since 2008. One of the things we like best is the open catering policy at the Convention Center. The opportunity to competitively bid catering services has been not only financially favorable, it has allowed us to ensure that the quality of food and beverage and related services meets our standards. In 2015, our catering spend was just short of $2.3M to a combination of three KC local caterers, so you can see that the impact of not being able to competitively bid out this work could be considerable.
ETS is very concerned about the potential for allowing the proposed new hotel to have exclusivity for catering in the Grand Ballroom and Convention Meeting Space. We hope that you will consider the fact that such exclusivity is described in a non-binding portion of the signed Memorandum of Understanding, and we urge you to consider not moving forward with a binding agreement.
Thanks for your consideration.
Patric Close Mills
Educational Testing Service
And finally, from The Menonite Church USA:
City Council of Kansas City
I’m writing to you representing an organization that recently held it’s national convention at the Kansas City Convention Center. We had a great experience. The convention center staff (including Matt Cunningham and Walter Moore and Steve Lesher) were great to amazing with. The CVB staff (including Juanita Crowder and Esther Walker-Young and Kim Dooley) were phenomenal to work with. Our participants spoke very highly of everyone they came in contact with during our event (vendors, hotel staff, restaurant staff, security guards, etc.). All this is to say that Kansas City has a good thing going!
The main reason I am writing today is to voice concern about the potential change to the open catering policy at the convention center. As someone that has planned large conventions for over 18 years, I can tell you that very few convention centers have open catering policies. I can also tell you that having an open catering policy was one of the selling points of bringing our convention to Kansas City. Having the opportunity to look at multiple caterers and have them bid on our business helped us control our costs. We were able to provide our convention participants with good meals at decent prices. As a non-profit organization, it is hard to go into a convention center with one catering option and have any bargaining power. Your open catering policy allowed us to ensure that we got competitive pricing. I would encourage you to keep the open catering policy as is.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions. I would be more than happy to share more of my views on this issue.
Have a great day.
Convention Planning Coordinator
Mennonite Church USA
These are legitimate concerns. Kansas City taxpayers have every reason to suspect the wisdom of the deal, and members of the City Council should proceed cautiously before investing public funds in a deal that risks so much.