Despite a restaurant fire that gutted the kitchen in October, a top hotel company completed its purchase of Kansas City’s Savoy Hotel and Grill on Wednesday and said it will proceed with resurrecting the historic property.
21c Museum Hotels, a hotel company based in Louisville, Ky., that Conde Nast Traveler has rated among the best in the world, intends to turn the Savoy into a boutique hotel, chef-driven restaurant and contemporary art museum.
It closed the deal to buy the property at 219 W. Ninth St. for $4.3 million from longtime owner Don Lee, a restaurateur who bought the hotel in 1965. Plans call for another $43.2 million more to be poured into renovations.
“To get a hotel of this stature is quite a coup for downtown,” said Sean O’Byrne, vice president of Kansas City’s Downtown Council. “This is going to be a class-A space. They have a very good eye for renovation and creative adaptations of space.”
O’Byrne said the October fire, which billowed smoke over the north edge of downtown, turned out not to hinder the 21c purchase, which had been in the works since mid-2013.
O’Byrne pointed to differences in how the hotel was constructed between 1888, when the hotel side of the property was built, and 1903, when the restaurant was built. The hotel — initially built to five floors — had timber beam construction. He said the sixth floor of the hotel and all of the restaurant side were built with poured concrete and metal beams.
“So the fire basically was entombed in a concrete structure that didn’t spread to the hotel,” O’Byrne said. “If it had, we might not have had a Savoy to preserve. As it was, they were going to gut the kitchen anyway, and the fire did it for them.”
The original part of the building, which sustained smoke damage from the blaze, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Craig Greenberg, president of 21c, said Wednesday that the October fire didn’t affect the company’s interest in or ability to complete the transaction. He said remaking the hotel will be “a complicated and significant undertaking. The building has a lot of challenges to restore it to be an innovative, comfortable hotel and museum. That’s why it costs so much to do.”
Design work has begun, and construction is expected to start in the second half of 2015. There is no target date yet for reopening the hotel or restaurant.
O’Byrne credited Kansas City real estate broker Whitney Kerr with being “a cheerleader for Kansas City” and focusing 21c’s attention on the burgeoning downtown.
Depending on the completion date, the downtown Kansas City property will be the seventh or eighth 21c hotel around the country. Local real estate developer Eric Holtze is working with the company on the Savoy project.
The 21c group opened its first hotel in 2006, renovating a warehouse on downtown Louisville’s West Main Street. The privately owned company now operates hotels in Louisville; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Bentonville, Ark. It has properties under construction in Durham, N.C.; Lexington, Ky.; and Oklahoma City. Another project in Nashville, Tenn., is in the development stage along with Kansas City’s.
The plan to resurrect the Savoy came to public attention in August 2013 when 21c obtained an option on the property.
A year ago, the company received Kansas City Council approval for Tax Increment Financing and Super TIF funds to renovate the property. About $11.7 million of the total cost is to be reimbursed by future tax revenues through a standard TIF and $18.7 million will be reimbursed from future revenues through Super TIF assistance.
The project also will use about $15 million in historic tax credits along with private equity investments.
Because of the property’s history, Greenberg said close attention will be paid to preserving historic elements and rehabilitating it in a way that’s consistent with federal historic preservation standards. He thanked former owner Lee for his “fortunate stewardship” of the building.
Greenberg said it’s still too early to have design renderings of how the Savoy renovation will look. It’s also too early to identify the new restaurant concept. But, as in the hotel, he said care will be taken to preserve historic elements.
Plans call for a 120-room hotel with significant public spaces to display rotating, museum-quality modern art. The company has its own art curator and is an active art purchaser and borrower of pieces from museums and private collectors.
“We are a real museum, not an art gallery with pieces for sale,” Greenberg said.
The company’s primary architect, New York-based Deborah Berke Partners, is working in Kansas City with Hufft Projects. Rosin Preservation also is involved in the renovation to help with historic preservation standards.
21c Museum Hotels was founded by art collectors and preservationists Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson. They and other members of the company’s executive team are the owners.
Each property opens with the intent to have extensive community access and involvement, especially providing meeting spaces for arts groups and other nonprofit organizations, Greenberg said.
He said the Kansas City purchase includes the surface parking lot adjacent to the restaurant, and 21c plans to keep it for that use.
O’Byrne said the Downtown Council is updating its lodging census for downtown Kansas City. He said recent hotel or extended stay announcements for downtown include those by Hampton Inn, Residence Inn, Holiday Inn and Hilton, building on the “fine addition to our downtown of the Ambassador, now a Triple Diamond hotel at 11th and Grand.”