A study confirmed what most of us already knew about Kansas City International Airport: the cost of renovating the 43-year-old facility would be more than starting over and the argument isn’t going away on convenience vs. amenities.
The Kansas City Aviation Department made a presentation to the Kansas City City Council last week that showed cost estimates for major renovations to the two existing terminals at KCI could cost between $1.04 and $1.19 billion. Building a new single terminal airport — in line with most of the major airports in the country — would come in at just less than $1 billion.
This report built on a report from earlier in the year, which said basically the same thing. The figures just became more exact and more time passed.
Now expect many more months before the city council makes a recommendation on how to proceed with the hub of major travel in Kansas City. Between the time of the two reports this year, nine of the 13 spots on the council turned over, and who knows how much more will change in the time before a definitive plan is adopted for KCI.
But council members in July said they wanted specific figures, and they got those last week. In addition, the presentation included a summary of what works well at KCI Airport and what needs to be improved. Those messages haven’t changed much in the long-raging debates over how the airport should function for customers.
Proponents of renovation like the familiarity, ease of entering the airport and going through security and parking options available.
The complaints seem to be divided into two groups: those of customers and those of operators. There’s a lack of amenities inside secure areas, few electrical outlets, congested curbsides (to some) and no taxi stands. There’s also the inability to share a bag system, narrow aircraft maneuvering areas, lack of more and bigger international flights and water leakage.
The previous renovation to the terminal only addressed some areas and made the interior of the building even more bland (hard to believe that was possible) and simply patched up others.
The biggest issue with the renovation is that it would involve a complete gutting of the facility in an effort to meet federal requirements for security and processing along with technology upgrades. In addition, new construction would likely take almost two years to develop the plan and another three to four years to actually finish the plan, which has previously been proposed to keep Terminals B and C operational and build on the site of Terminal A.
Previous studies determined that building a new terminal to the south of the existing airport would be two costly due to infrastructure needs.
There’s just nothing simple about this process, and renovations would take even longer by the estimates due to ongoing construction while the airport tries to remain in full service.
Officials tried to paint the idea of a new terminal keeping the convenience and affordability while making the upgrades. Others have been skeptical that is possible and have expressed concerns that cheaper renovation plans were dismissed earlier in this ongoing process.
The airlines now must reach a consensus on which of the four proposals discussed last week — two renovations and two new terminals — they prefer. The next update is expected in the first half of 2016.
The biggest thing for area residents to remember is that none of this would be paid for with taxpayer dollars. All construction or renovation money would come from passenger ticket fees, parking revenues, grants and other special revenues.
Kansas City voters would be asked to approve any revenue bonds needed to pay for airport upgrades, and at least one city council member — Teresa Loar — thinks that ballot initiative would fail miserably if presented today. She wants citizens to keep in mind that ultimately the airlines don’t make the decision here: the council and the citizens still wield the power.
Seems like we know enough to make a plan, but the discussion will continue into the new year. Just remember that although a new terminal seems to be preferred by the airlines, it’s not a done deal yet.
But I’d be surprised if that isn’t the eventual direction taken.
Ross Martin is publisher of The Citizen. He may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @Citizen_Ross.