Wrangling over a new passenger terminal for the Kansas City International Airport just got more interesting. A Kansas City architectural firm has tossed a fresh plan into the suggestion pile, one that retains much of the existing terminals’ style and convenience. Those who fly via KCI are interested, as are those who know the airport is a main ventricle for the beating heart of Platte County’s economy.
Even if you don’t fly or worry about commerce, the city politics for this project are interesting. Crawford Architects of Kansas City, working with some other aviation planners, have suggested a $335.6 million plan to remodel and enlarge Terminal A, which is currently unused. That seems like a bargain compared to cost estimates of $964 million to $1.1 billion to build a new single terminal or do a complete makeover on the old ones.
The latter two cost scenarios are what aviation planners and airlines seemed locked into late last year. They seemed headed toward a new single terminal.
The Crawford Architects plan was released to media last week and The Kansas City Star outlined it on Tuesday, Jan. 19.
For those who like KCI the way it is, suddenly there was a fresh breeze blowing over what seemed like a forced march toward a big-box terminal similar to those in other cities.
For those who favored the billion-dollar, big-box terminal, suddenly there was a new rock in the shoe during an already prolonged march.
KCI’s aviation staff and some city leaders have long said a new airport terminal is needed. It was suggested to tear down the old and build new.
Extremely strong protests from the community arose. People value how much easier it is to drop off or pick up passengers at KCI than it is at many other airports. The airport seems way more convenient than those in other cities. It’s often a short walk from the sidewalk outside the terminal to the gate where flights are departing, and the same for arrivals.
Some of the comparisons with other cities are perhaps not fair because those towns have far more flights and passengers to move than KCI. Yet the airport always seems easier to me to navigate than those of comparable or even smaller sizes.
No one doubts that changes are needed.
In this terrorist-infested era, security at airports is extremely important. KCI wasn’t built with terrorism in mind. No one anticipated the level of security screening for passengers and baggage that would arise.
Once inside the secure area, things can get crowded at the gate waiting areas, restrooms are small, food and beverage choices are limited. Although some of the cramping seems to me due to the fact that things are pressed together due to Terminal A not in use.
Regardless, it’s time to retool the passenger system in some fashion.
But the Crawford Architects plan is interesting because it widens and extends the concourse area of the existing terminal, trims corners off the center parking garage area but adds floors for more parking, and revamps the roadways and sidewalks inside the existing circular terminal loop.
More room would be added to the secure area for restrooms, food shops, tourist stuff and waiting areas, all at a significantly lower cost than other current proposals.
Aviation experts are studying the plan now.
Maybe they will find major flaws that sink it in comparison to the new, big-box leanings of prior plans. Perhaps it works now but has drawbacks for aviation needs decades from now.
But for now, it’s certainly eye-catching and study worthy.
The problem city officials already had is that despite lengthy studies, citizen input, public meetings and negotiations: switching from the old KCI to a new big box was going to leave many in the public cynical about City Hall and the Aviation Department. That would be true even if all facts showed a new, built-from-scratch terminal to be the best option.
The Crawford Architects plan creates even more doubt, at least for now. A key chapter in the city’s history is unfolding before us, and the story lines keep getting richer.
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area, may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.