KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Emails between top officials pursuing the 2016 Republican National Convention on Kansas City’s behalf show a scramble in the final weeks of the city’s bid effort to address concerns over the venue and the issue that would ultimately become Kansas City’s downfall: hotel space.
Thousands of pages of internal emails between and amongst Kansas City officials and KC2016 Task Force members show an organized, determined, underdog effort that tried to meet the needs of the RNC but could not quite overcome the limitations of a city attempting to punch outside its weight class.
The emails highlight some of the bid’s strength, including fundraising efforts which secured commitments from many of Kansas City’s major corporations like Cerner and Burns and McDonnell. There was also a $3.3 million dollar pledge by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, which would have been paid out of a fund at the state’s Department of Commerce.
In late spring, the emails show one perceived strength – the gleaming Sprint Center, with its June availability – nearly became a weakness.
An email dated May 6th recounted a breakfast meeting between RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran. In the meeting, the chairman reportedly told the senator he was concerned about a “lack of suites/boxes and ideal accommodations for VIPs/donors.”
At the same time, Kansas City bid officials were in discussions about how to build out more suites for the Sprint Center. One email from Task Force co-chair Linda Bond estimated costs of building 12-14 more suites at the arena at around $5 to $7 million.
Emails later in the course of the summer indicate this question had been put to bed, and when Moran mentioned the Sprint Center’s comparative lack of suites in a radio interview in late June, bid task force officials set about walking back the comment.
“We will make sure any response conveys that Sprint Center is world class in every way,” consultant Julie Sally wrote in an email about how to discuss the interview.
And indeed it wouldn’t be the Sprint Center that would cause the greatest headaches for the KC2016 Task Force, but the lack of high-quality hotel rooms in immediate proximity to the venue.
Dozens of emails raise questions about hotel rooms throughout the bid process. In late June, one email passes along a suggestion from site selection committee member Steve Duprey of New Hampshire, who told a Task Force member the city should consider reaching out to colleges to secure empty dorm rooms.
Subsequent emails show Task Force committee leader Terry Dunn and Kansas City Mayor Sly James doing just that; he secured hundreds of rooms at UMKC and Rockhurst University.
Even those would not be enough.
On June 25th, the day the RNC announced Cleveland and Dallas as its convention finalist cities, cutting Kansas City, Mayor James emailed more than a dozen top city and task force officials expressing his pride in their effort. He passed along what he had heard from site selection committee chairwoman Enid Mickelsen.
“In the end, they were concerned about our hotel stock and the number of rooms in close proximity to the convention site,” James wrote. Others would later write to reinforce this point.
“The reason given for the decision should be a lack of downtown hotels. Period. Please stick to this messaging,” one insider wrote.
But James’ email to the top task force officials captured a sentiment that the team behind the effort had given their all, and they had done the best they could to sell the RNC on Kansas City’s merits as a top-tier convention host.
“Hold your heads high and shed no tears,” the mayor’s email concluded. “It has been my great honor to be part of this team.”