KC council passes airport MOU by 8-5 vote

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Many supporters of a new KCI Airport crammed into the council room on the 26th floor of city hall in downtown Kansas City.

The supporters were handed ‘ready for takeoff’ stickers with the KCI Edgemoor logo on the bottom that dotted suits, blazers, shirts and blouses for those in favor of the new single-terminal airport plan that carries a price tag of more than $1 billion.

A standing-room only gallery — along with every television station in the city — entered for the vote on the memorandum of understanding with Edgemoor Infrastructure.

 Contributed photo Rending from Edgemoor Infrastructure shows what the new KCI Airport’s check-in gate would look like if the Kansas City council approves the $1 billion memorandum of understanding on Thursday, Feb. 8.

Contributed photo
Rending from Edgemoor Infrastructure shows what the new KCI Airport’s check-in gate would look like if the Kansas City council approves the $1 billion memorandum of understanding on Thursday, Feb. 8.

The measure passed by an 8-5 margin on Thursday, Feb. 8, almost flipping the margin of defeat back in December when the original MOU failed 9-4.

“I’m happy, relieved, and, most of all, excited that we can finally move on to the next phase of this project and give Kansas Citians the airport they want and deserve,” mayor Sly James said in a press release the city issued following the meeting. “This wasn’t always a pretty process, but at the end of the day, when city officials trust the democratic process and act to serve Kansas Citians, we move forward as a community. Now, it’s time to get to work on the next steps.”

During the November election, 75 percent of voters approved the KCI question.

James reminded the 12 council members of that at the onset of his speech — which was streamed live online.

“Voters are watching us,” he said. “They have high expectations for this city now and they want to believe we’re listening. You’re here to make hard decisions, and when you have hard decisions involving large amounts of money, people get all sorts of weird sometimes. That’s the nature of the beast. You can’t take it personally.”

The council’s two Platte County representatives — Dan Fowler and Teresa Loar — were split with Fowler voting yes on it and Loar opposing it for the second straight council vote.

Joining Fowler in voting in favor of the MOU were James, Quinton Lucas, Jermaine Reed, Katheryn Shields, Jolie Justus, Alissia Canaday and Kevin McManus.

Heather Hall, Lee Barnes, Scott Taylor and Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner joined Loar in saying no to the MOU.

“This is a momentous step to deliver to citizens of Kansas City the airport they have been clamoring for and deserve,” Reed said prior to the vote.

Fowler and Loar are both on the airport committee that voted on Feb. 1 6-0 in favor of sending the MOU to the council.

Fowler, the 2nd district councilman, voted no in December but mentioned that time that he spent speaking with Edgemoor has addressed his concerns.

“They negotiated in good faith in virtually everything we need,” he said.

Fowler noted he received the ‘robo calls’ that were anti-Edgemoor and rumored by those on social media to be set up by the two competing firms — AECOM and Burns & McDonnell — that didn’t win the contract.

Of the three points the call contended as issues with Edgemoor, Fowler said one point was an outright lie and the other two were distortions of the complete truth.

“I am looking forward to the hundreds of new jobs that will soon be created — all the more critical now that we are losing Harley-Davidson,” Fowler said in a press release issued after the vote. “I am looking forward to the $1.5 million in community benefits coming to the Northland — for mental health services for youth and for neighborhood improvements. But mostly, I am looking forward to a ‘Better KCI’ for you, me and visitors that travel to and through KCI.”

Fowler and Loar — 2nd district at-large — both noted the rancorous tone that has been taken during this process. 

“We are a union town and we help our neighbors and we give back to the community,” Loar said. “What I have experienced in the last three weeks has been absolutely unbelievable. This is my third term on the council and with all the issues I have gone through in the two terms before under mayor (Emanuel) Cleaver and mayor (Kay) Barnes. There was nothing (sanctimonious), and as hateful and as rancorous as this has been.

 CODY THORN/Citizen photo Kansas City councilman Dan Fowler, shown talking during the city council meeting on Thursday, Feb. 8, voted in favor of passing the MOU between the city and Edgemoor Infrastructure to construct a new airport terminal.

CODY THORN/Citizen photo
Kansas City councilman Dan Fowler, shown talking during the city council meeting on Thursday, Feb. 8, voted in favor of passing the MOU between the city and Edgemoor Infrastructure to construct a new airport terminal.

“Obviously it is worth a lot of money to a lot of people. What we have to do as a council is figure out and do our jobs and figure out what is best for Kansas City, Missouri.”

Loar after saying she had to think about her vote continued to her thoughts on the situation — sounding like a teacher scolding a classroom that misbehaved.

“I would tell you, unless you walked in our shoes up here, do not judge us on what we are trying to do today. We are trying to sort through it and these are humongous decisions and a hell of a lot of money. I think we need to have everybody back off and settle down and let us do our job. We don’t come to your business and tell you how to do your job. So please understand that we were voted here by the people to do what we are doing today and I think everybody needs to back off a little bit.” 

Each of the 13 council members gave thoughts on the MOU and some mentioned they would vote no before the official vote was taken.

“My fear is if we are working this hard on an MOU it’s only going to get more difficult knowing how the process works,” said Taylor, councilman for the 6th district at-large that is running for mayor in 2019. “I think it’s a bad precedent and my comfort level is very low for this developer.”

Taylor has been a proponent of Burns & McDonnell who he believes should’ve gotten the construction contract. Incidentally, the headquarters for Burns & McDonnell is in the same district that Taylor represents.

After James voted ‘yes’ to account for the 13th and final vote, the crowd started to cheer for the passage of the measure.

Platte County Economic Development executive director Alicia Stephens was on the initial airport terminal advisory committee that met for nearly two years on the early stages of the project. 

“We’ve been working on this project for probably upwards of five years to identify the need and direction it needs to go,” Stephens said. “To get the MOU passed is a big step in the right direction. Anytime you have a $1 billion project it is an economic driver. The airport has always been an economic driver because businesses want to be close. Add in a new terminal and even more new investments and all the jobs that will come with a project of this size.

Justus, the airport committee chairwoman, told James the committee supported the project and recommended it to pass.

She was the first of the council members to discuss the thoughts on a new KCI.

“The voters have spoken loud and clear,” she said. “They want a new gateway for our region, one that creates a sense of unparalleled pride.”

Edgemoor has addressed 43 of the council’s 45 revision requests, but the two they didn’t bothered Barnes.

Barnes noted that someone needs to look out for those in the distressed census tracts and he was doing what he could for those residents.

Barnes also voiced his displeasure in not using AECOM for the project, though given the timing of Thursday’s vote, boiled down to crying over spilled milk.

For the council members on the fence, they liked what they saw in the past 45 days from the Maryland-based company.

Hall said she felt like she knew the group better, but added ‘this is too big of a project, too expensive to take a chance.”

Edgemoor tinkered with the community benefit package — one of the sticking points earlier. 

The total now stands at $28.8 million, which continues to grow from the initial offer of $10 million. During an airport meeting on Jan. 17, Edgemoor upped the community benefit package to $24 million.

One of the new additions is $1.5 million for a ‘Northland Fund’ which will go toward workforce housing, mental health and economic development for communities near KCI Airport.

 CODY THORN/Citizen photo Kansas City mayor Sly James was the last person on the city council to speak on the proposed memorandum of understanding between the city and Edgemoor Infrastructure to construct a new terminal at KCI Airport. James voted in favor of the contract, which passed 8-5. 

CODY THORN/Citizen photo
Kansas City mayor Sly James was the last person on the city council to speak on the proposed memorandum of understanding between the city and Edgemoor Infrastructure to construct a new terminal at KCI Airport. James voted in favor of the contract, which passed 8-5. 

“There is an innovative community development agreement that ensures that this project will have a ripple effect for our community for years to come,” Justus said.

Edgemoor will work with the Aviation Department to start an apprenticeship program that would train workers.

“This MOU provides a working document that provides opportunity for everybody,” Canady said. “Some of the language has been amended to include veterans and disabled veterans. We put provisions in place in this agreement that hasn’t been in any other agreements I have researched.”

Another issue is the desires from some to have an all-union workforce complete the project, but Edgemoor could need an exception to hire non-union minorities and business-owned companies.

The Black Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City and Hispanic Contractor Associations of Greater Kansas City both voiced their displeasure with the current MOU in recent weeks. The Black Chamber called for the council to drop Edgemoor and move onto AECOM, while the HCA said they had been ignored by Edgemoor. 

That was an idea that circulated with Wagner as well.

Wagner compared the struggles of Edgemoor partner Clark Construction and its delays on the Seattle-Tacoma Airport. The project is an estimated $100-127 million over budget and 256 days behind schedule, according to Wagner. He took this to his Facebook page the day prior to the vote and brought up many of the same concerns during his speech on Thursday, mentioning he spoke with someone in Washington about the project.

During his time on the floor, James mentioned that Wagner spoke with someone with the Port Authority that wasn’t a designated spokesperson.

Another issue Wagner brought up was the termination feel if things fell through. The city could leave the non-binding MOU now but with the passage it will cost $23.2 million — a cut from the original $30M price tag. Taylor also voiced his belief that number should be closer to $0 than the $23 million.

Next up is for the city and Edgemoor to agree on a design and maximum price for the terminal — which will sit where the current Terminal A is located now. If financing can be secured there could be a groundbreaking ceremony this fall.

Edgemoor will still have to do environmental work, finalize design and work with both the Aviation Dept. and local labor unions to figure out what could be decided. 

Some council members wanted 100 percent unions, but Edgemoor wants to have 35 percent of the work done by women- or minority-owned businesses. Canady reminded the council that Missouri Senate Bill 182 prohibits cities from giving favoritism to unions when handing out contracts.

“I have confidence this council is willing to do what is the best interest for Kansas City,” Canaday said prior to the vote. “As we collectively work together, not everyone will agree and not everyone will like everything. Again, we have the responsibility today to do what is in the best interest of Kansas City. This council, the majority of the council, will do what is in the best interest of the city.”