Hotel Topeka purchase prompts scrutiny of city’s priorities

The Hotel Topeka was appraised at $3 million and purchased for $7.6 million.
Published: Jun. 8, 2023 at 7:30 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Officials involved in the purchase and redevelopment of the Hotel Topeka stand by their decision to purchase the hotel for $7.6 million earlier this week, however, taxpayers have voiced concerns for the cities priorities.

Sean Dixon, president of Visit Topeka, told 13 News that this property is essential for attracting and retaining convention business in the capital city.

The overall vision would be to essentially solidify Topeka, Kansas as a destination for associations and other convention business,” he said. “We still have that opportunity to be that capital city of Kansas. That gathering place for all Kansans. And what happened here this week will help us ensure that we are in charge of that process moving forward.”

He says that the case of the Hotel Topeka is different from a regular hotel because as a convention center, it doesn’t rely on surrounding businesses to generate revenue. It does that on its own by attracting visitors specifically to the hotel.

“I look at this as more like a performing arts center or an event center where there needs to be some level of of involvement because of the level of visitation that it creates, and the tax benefits that this creates.”

Doug Noonan, Professor of Public and Environmental Affairs at the O’Neill School at Indiana University, has a different perspective. He says that it’s unusual for municipal governments to become insert themselves into the dealings of the private sector to the extent the City of Topeka has.

“Governments will get involved in preparing the site for sale essentially,” he said. “And then they put it out to market and then they let the private sector take it over. And so the idea there is that it’s a short term investment from the government and they’re not trying to stay in business. They’re trying to get out of that business as fast as they can.”

Moreover, he questions the true benefits it has for the community.

“We’re making this really nice hotel to for the benefit of people who don’t live here. People who don’t vote here, people don’t pay taxes here.”

The city says it’ll work with private developers and industry experts to determine a redevelopment plan for the hotel. It will remain open and operational in the meantime.