Finally putting a question on the ballot related to KCI Airport took years. The City of Kansas City ended up with a just a few months to convince voters to approve.
On Tuesday, Nov. 7, residents will help shape the future of KCI Airport in the metro area, and without approval, the situation could be even more complicated.
The question on the ballot for City of Kansas City residents reads: “Shall the City of Kansas City be authorized to construct a new passenger terminal at Kansas City International Airport and demolish existing terminals as necessary, with all costs paid solely from the revenues derived by the City from the operation of its airports and related facilities, and without the issuance of general airport revenue bonds unless such general airport revenue bonds have received prior voter approval?” with a yes or no option. The question requires a simple majority to pass.
So what do voters need to know before casting a ballot on the $1 billion proposal from Maryland-based Edgemoor to finance and build a new single terminal?
First, only residents within the city limits of Kansas City will be able to vote. The KCI Airport operates under the direction of the Kansas City Aviation Department, and although building a new terminal does not require voter authority, the Kansas City City Council accepted a petition in 2013 guaranteeing a ballot measure on any proposed major improvements, thinking an election would be necessary due to the municipal bonds.
Previously, municipal bonds appeared to be the best — and most commonly used method — to finance airport improvements or replacements.
The City of Kansas City appeared headed that direction until mayor Sly James put a pause on the discussion in May of 2016 based on the appearance of limited support for a new terminal. Many area residents continue to champion the ease and convenience of the 44-year-old three terminal setup.
With municipal bonds, the city also fought the perception of repayment.
Revenue from user fees pay back the bonds, meaning any passenger coming through KCI foots the bill. However, concerns were raised that a lack of passengers could leave City of Kansas City taxpayers to make up the difference, although this scenario has been shown to be extremely unlikely.
Supporters of a new terminal have continually bemoaned the lack of amenities for passengers, especially inside the cramped gates. Lack of bathroom facilities and dining options make for uncomfortable experiences compared to other modern airports.
Many casual airport users don’t want to sacrifice the speed of curbside to gate in KCI Airport’s current format.
The idea of a major renovation to the current terminals — one of which has already been closed due to lack of need — has been investigated throughout the process. A committee showed in 2016 that new construction would be significantly cheaper than a major overhaul that would require updates to security procedures and ADA compliance.
When the previous municipal bond plan faltered, a new option came up during the past year.
Burns and McDonnell — a local engineering firm — brought up the idea of private financing paid back through user fees in exchange for having control over the design and construction process. Other companies then approached the city council asking for the right to bid, and eventually, officials agreed to open up the process.
The council eventually chose Edgemoor with a 10-2 vote in late September after ballot language had been drafted to allow for the vetting of four bids.
Even this caused some issues for the perception of the project. Burns and McDonnell’s original bid included a campaign showing the firm as the “hometown team,” making some wonder why Kansas City wouldn’t support a Kansas City-based company.
Edgemoor has done more than $50 billion in aviation work and hopes to finish the project by November 2021 with voter approval.
Recently, polls showed slight favor for the new terminal, but the risk seems apparent. Previously reported, the state of Kansas has investigated the feasibility of constructing a large airport in the metro area.
A no vote could really put the future of the current KCI Airport in question.
During the lengthy investigation process, airline carriers have made clear the desire for improvements. A new terminal could mean an increase in flights arriving and departing out of KCI with the preliminary plans from Edgemoor showing the ability to handle potential future growth.
Airline carriers are likely to accept any proposal that allows for more traffic airport in Kansas City, making it a dangerous proposition for the City of Kansas City, Platte County and the state of Missouri to add any more time to the process with a no vote in November.