Checking In with Hotel Phillips

The historic hotel’s new ownership discusses what the future holds.

Downtown landmark Hotel Phillips’ illustrious history is getting a new chapter, complete with new owners and a fresh look. But don’t let the word new scare you off: The future of the Art Deco icon is taking its cues from the past.

“We’re very cognizant of the importance of this hotel in the community,” says Sheenal Patel, principal of Arbor Lodging Partners, the hotel’s new owner, and CEO of NVN Hotels, the management company in charge of the property.

The site was originally home to the Glennon Hotel, where Harry S. Truman operated a store before entering the political arena. The building was razed to make way for the Hotel Phillips. Completed in 1931 for a then-astronomical $1.6 million, the 20-story 450-room hotel was the tallest building in Kansas City. It’s been a beloved part of the downtown landscape ever since, attracting celebrity guests such as John Barrymore and Tina Turner over the decades.

Hotel Phillips in 1950; photo used with permission from the Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri.

Chicago-based Arbor Lodging Partners acquired the property in October 2015 and is currently working on renovations scheduled for completion in the fall. The changes are meant to highlight, not remove, those aspects that give Hotel Phillips its distinct character, Patel says. In fact, they are part of what made it appealing to Arbor, along with another important factor: its location.

“It seems like everybody is very excited about what’s going on downtown,” he says.

Add Hotel Phillips’ refresh to that list of reasons to be excited. NVN is working with Crossroads-based Rosin Preservation to ensure the building, which was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1979, is treated with care.

“The entire renovation, we’ve been very careful to pay respects to the historic past of the hotel,” he says. “I think over time, that historic past has been somewhat neglected as prior owners have renovated the property. We’re trying to really bring back a lot of that sort of grandeur, but in a modern way.”

For instance, the Crystal Ballroom will simply receive a light touch up since all its components are historic. That will likely come as a relief to area wedding planners and couples—the mezzanine level room is a favorite destination for wedding receptions. Patel sees its status as a leading wedding destination only being reaffirmed by updated guest rooms, all 217 of which will be renovated, resulting in different room types and experiences for visitors, as well as new food and drink offerings.

Restaurant 12 Baltimore will also be renovated, and two more food and beverage concepts will be introduced: a lower level cocktail lounge and a coffee shop attached to the lobby. The lobby too will be renovated in the hopes of creating a destination that attracts visitors beyond those staying at the hotel.

Upon completion of the updates, Hotel Phillips will become part of the Curio Collection by Hilton. By working with local food and beverage providers (agreements are currently in the works) and staying true to the hotel’s impressive past, Patel emphasizes the goal is to create a unique boutique hotel experience that offers a taste of Kansas City flavor you’re unlikely to get from a standard big-box hotel.

“The Kansas City culture is very strong. People are very proud to live in Kansas City and of Kansas City, whether it’s sports teams or the food or the arts. There are a lot of interesting things happening,” he says. “There’s a lot to be proud of.”