The once bright outlook for a new KCI Airport became a renewed chaotic situation following a surprise vote last week.
The Kansas City City Council rejected a memorandum of understanding with Edgemoor Infrastructure & Real Estate, previously awarded the bid to design and construct a new single terminal facility on existing Kansas City Aviation Department land in Platte County. However, the lengthy meeting Thursday, Dec. 14 didn’t put an end to the relationship between the city and the originally preferred developer.
City representatives brought up concerns over a lack of specific financial framework, shortage of community benefits and an incentive for Edgemoor if the project was not completed.
According to reports, Geoffrey Stricker — managing principal for Edgemoor — left the meeting following the 9-4 vote. The nine votes against the MOU included one from Northland representative Dan Fowler, while Kansas City mayor Sly James was in the minority voting to approve.
Kansas City councilman Lee Barnes introduced a resolution to terminate discussions with Edgemoor. However, the council voted to move the discussion to committee — adding to the uncertainty of the new KCI Airport project.
On Monday, Dec. 18, AECOM and Burns & McDonnell — two formerly competing firms for the project — announced a joint partnership to pursue discussions with the city if talks with Edgemoor end. AECOM and Burns & McDonnell appear ready to seize on a perceived weakness of the submitted MOU, which did not include enough incentive for minority contractors and investment into the city.
There’s no indication if the city would pursue talks with AECOM and Burns & McDonnell with Edgemoor still pledging to work to improve its pitch.
“You entrusted us with a #BetterKCI,” Edgemoor tweeted Sunday morning. “… That’s a responsibility we don’t take lightly. We’ve reached out to all of city council and are committed to listening, understanding and developing solutions. Our commitment to this project, and to KC, is unwavering.”
Last month, Kansas City voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot question to allow the city to work toward replacing the current three-terminal setup with an estimated $1-billion-plus construction project of a new single terminal aimed at increasing capacity for airlines.
The process moved quickly after Burns & McDonnell — a local firm — approached the council about a private funding option. Eventually, a vote allowed other companies to submit bids with Edgemoor winning out over Burns & McDonnell and AECOM’s KCI Partnership.
However, the voter approval gave the city rights to negotiate a deal with any company, and ballot language didn’t specifically include Edgemoor. The council could move on and begin negotiations with AECOM, the runner-up in the bidding process.
The meeting on Thursday included a lengthy closed session meeting with apparent legal issues associated with the move to reject the MOU with Edgemoor. There’s no clear indication if the city would need to re-bid the project or simply start up talks with AECOM right away.
Kansas City mayor Sly James has lashed out at the council publicly for not supporting the approved bidder. He called the AECOM and Burns & McDonnell press conference premature and untimely, further clouding the project’s future.
What appears clear is the city’s need to move quickly in an effort to move forward with the project in wake of the overwhelming voter support. More than 70 percent of Kansas City voters approved of the measure, and in Platte County — home of KCI Airport for the past 41 years — unofficial results showed a turnout of 25.74 with 7,826 ballots cast in Kansas City. Of those, 5,761 voted yes (73.94 percent), while 2,030 voted no (2,030).
KCI Airport operates under the direction of the Kansas City Aviation Department, and although building a new terminal did 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 use of municipal bonds. At that time, municipal bonds appeared to be the best — and most commonly used method — to finance airport improvements or replacements.
The city appeared headed in that direction until 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 continued to champion the ease and convenience of getting through security despite a lack of amenities, including limited restrooms and food options at the cramped gate area.
When the private financing option came up, four companies submitted a bid with Edgemoor winning in a 10-2 vote.
Revenue from user fees pay back the bonds, meaning any passenger coming through KCI foots the bill. However, concerns were raised that City of Kansas City taxpayers could be left to make up unpaid bond payments, although this scenario has been shown to be extremely unlikely.
The concerns now revolve around vague financing framework and a lack of support for allowing local and minority companies the chance to be a part of the project.
Edgemoor has done more than $50 billion in aviation work and hoped to finish the project by November 2021. That timeline now appears to be wrecked with fears that the dissolution of this agreement could lead to competition from Kansas to finance a similar project on the other side of the KC metro area’s state line.