The city purchased the Hyatt Regency Wichita 15 years ago for reasons that were disappointing but also sound, including the need to safeguard a crucial asset to downtown and riverfront redevelopment.
But the situation wasn’t supposed to last forever, which makes the proposed sale on Tuesday’s City Council agenda significant and welcome news for Wichita.
It’s especially reassuring that the top bidder, billionaire Phil Ruffin, knows his way around both the hotel business and Wichita. He owns the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and co-owns the same city’s Trump International Hotel and Tower. His first hotel was the Wichita Marriott, which he still owns along with the nearby Fairfield Inn and Suites.
Ruffin’s $20 million offer to buy the Hyatt, at 400 W. Waterman, was one of just two proposals. Riverfront Partners, which offered $10.4 million, is co-owned by George Laham, Jack DeBoer, Bruce Christenson and Tony Isaac.
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Selling the Hyatt would fulfill a campaign goal of Mayor Jeff Longwell. The council vote would direct city staff to negotiate a purchase agreement with Ruffin.
It’s not a simple as accepting payment and handing over the keys, however, given how the Hyatt and Century II are connected – physically and operationally – and how the Hyatt must fit into future riverfront development.
The sales deal has not been the subject of much community debate. City Council members need to satisfy themselves and citizens:
▪ That the price is a good one, and taxpayers couldn’t be better served by some other sales or redevelopment strategy involving the property. In 2001 the city paid $18.3 million for the hotel, which was built in 1997 for $31 million with financing by Atlanta-based developers, the city and local bankers.
▪ That the April request for proposals wasn’t kidding when it said bidders would be required to maintain the Hyatt Regency flag designation and assume the requirements of the management agreement with Hyatt Hotels Corp., which lasts through 2026. In any case, quality must not suffer under new ownership.
▪ That Ruffin is open to helping meet Wichita’s goal of being more competitive in attracting conventions. For example, a consultant who assessed Wichita’s potential in 2013 suggested the Hyatt needed 100 more rooms.
As a first-class place to do business and party as well as entertain visitors, the Hyatt Regency Wichita has played a key role in giving the city’s core new life. If the Ruffin deal goes through, he will need to be not just a buyer but a partner in what comes next for downtown.