Legislature clears way for auto show move from Missouri

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The Kansas Legislature has opened the door for the Kansas City Auto Show to move out of downtown Kansas City, Missouri, across the state line to Wyandotte County.

The House on Tuesday unanimously passed legislation, which now goes to Gov. Laura Kelly for her signature and creates a new economic opportunity for the chief executive.

The legislation was more controversial outside the statehouse than inside, with the Kansas City, Missouri, mayor saying it reignites the economic development rivalry between the two states.

Quinton Lucas

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas accused Kansas of trying to steal the Kansas City Auto Show from downtown Kansas City, Missouri, where it had been for more than 100 years.

Lucas sounded a tone of regional cooperation between Kansas and Missouri when he testified against the bill in writing on Feb. 23.

“When our states agreed to put an end to the long-standing economic border war between Kansas and Missouri in 2019, it was a clear first step to building better regional collaboration,” Lucas told the House Transportation Committee on Feb. 23.

“The long-standing history of shuffling of economic opportunities back and forth across the state line has eroded trust and negatively impacted efforts to grow the greater Kansas City region, which helps residents on both sides of the state line,” he wrote.

The bill passed by the Legislature, he said, rekindles the economic development rivalry – and so-callled border war – between the two states.

“The Kansas Legislature must recognize the tone that Senate Bill 33 sets, by encouraging
important events and businesses to relocate across state lines — hindering long-term development in Kansas City,” he wrote.

The bill is necessary because state law prohibits an out-of-state car dealer from showing a vehicle in Kansas.

Organizers of the auto show told lawmakers they plan to hold this year’s event June 11-13 at the Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kansas.

The event, which has been held at Bartle Hall in downtown Kansas City, generates about 1,400 room nights for local hotels, they said.

It takes about three days to set up the event, generating local jobs and an estimated $300,000 payroll for 150 to 200 stagehand workers, forklift drivers and electrical specialists, among others.

It’s a display auto show, and vehicles are not sold at the event.

Organizers said the speedway location near the intersection of Interstates 70 and 435 is easily accessible with ample parking — “a large improvement over downtown Kansas City.”

They say it’s unfair to lump an auto show in with the border war over economic development with tax breaks as a weapon.

The Auto Dealers Association of Greater Kansas City said it was making the move of its own volition without any tax breaks from the state.

Larry Carl, the CEO for the automobile dealers group, said recently he thinks Lucas became frustrated with other local governments from across the state line relying on Kansas City services, like a Bartle Hall warming shelter, without responding in kind.

“I just think that our auto show got mislabeled or thrown into that frustration and it really doesn’t serve the greater concern that he may have regarding this unbalanced regionalism,” Carl said in a recent interview.

The group said it’s relocating the event because of the pandemic and the unlikely possibility of being able to hold its yearly show indoors during early March.

“The opportunity to reinvent the auto show at an outdoor location in June allows us to hold a more innovative, interactive, and experiential event,” Carl wrote in a response to comments Lucas made about the auto show on Twitter.

“An outside venue also allows for more social distancing and other COVID protocols. We believe these changes will benefit consumers across the entire metro area,” he said.