KC mayor pushes pause button on KCI construction, renovation discussions

Sly James plans to push the pause button on all discussions for the future of KCI Airport.

Citing low polling numbers from residents, Kansas City’s mayor made the announcement to shelve all talk of building a new terminal or renovating the existing ones during a news conference Tuesday, May 3 in Kansas City, Mo. Kansas City voters will not be asked to approve any measure related to the airport this year.

Instead, James suggested turning the city’s focus to reducing crime and improving schools.

Just last week, the airline operators at KCI presented a recommendation to the Kansas City City Council, suggesting a new single terminal on the current site in Platte County. James believes the city needs a complete transportation overhaul, including the airport and bus and rail systems, but declined to move forward with 40 percent of citizens in a poll opposed to the current proposal.

“I’m not willing to do this if we can’t grow together as a city,” James wrote on his blog explaining his decision. “We’ve been conducting outreach to the residents, business and civic community, and it’s clear that our city isn’t ready to move forward with the KCI conversation right now.”

The ongoing conversation from the past five years will continue but not in an official capacity at this point.

Many want to upgrade the 43-year-old facility with a new structure that conforms to modern changes in travel, while others want to maintain the convenience of the current setup. In December, a study showed that building a single terminal would actually be cheaper than massive renovations, and the airline partners were left to propose a plan.

Steve Sisneros, director of airport affairs for Southwest Airlines, told the council last week that the group supported a single terminal, estimated to cost $964 million in 2015. The airlines suggested they would help pay for this project but wanted the council to move quickly and seek voter approval in August for airport bonds.

No city tax dollars would be used, only contributions from the airlines along with passenger ticket fees, parking revenues, grants and other special revenues.

“We can walk, talk and chew gum at the same, but we must do it as a unified city,” James wrote. “When I ran for mayor I promised to do what is right for the whole city and I meant it — even if it means pulling back on an idea I personally feel strongly about.”

The Kansas City Aviation Department’s presentation in December showed cost estimates for major renovations to the two existing terminals at KCI ranging from $1.04 to $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.
Those figures built on a report from earlier in 2015, which said basically the same thing but didn’t include exact estimated costs.

The complaints about the current airport setup 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.

A previous $258 million renovation completed in 2004 only addressed some problem areas and stripped away some of the interior, leaving the bare structure of the building visible.

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. 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 too costly due to infrastructure needs.

Kansas City voters would be asked to approve any revenue bonds needed to pay for airport upgrades. Previously, some city officials offered that any ballot initiative would fail, and James’ polling numbers give credibility to that idea.