Most experts didn’t know what to expect, but the City of Kansas City received approval to pursue construction of a new single terminal KCI Airport in Platte County.
On Tuesday, Nov. 7, voters gave overwhelming support to Question 1 on the ballot, bringing to an end a lengthy discussion on the 44-year-old structure’s future. Yes votes comprised more than 70 percent of early returns from Kansas City voters in Platte, Clay, Jackson and Cass counties.
A large turnout at a Better KCI campaign party celebrated the results, which will allow the City of Kansas City to partner with Edgemoor Infrastructure and Real Estate on the design and construction of a new single terminal airport.
According to representatives with Edgemoor, a memorandum of understanding could be in front of the Kansas City City Council by the end of the month to start the process on the planned $1 billion facility.
The question on the ballot for City of Kansas City residents read: “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 required a simple majority to pass.
An overwhelming majority responded.
In Platte County, 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) on Question 1. The results were consistent across all precincts in the four-county area.
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 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 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 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 out of four submitted proposals with a 10-2 vote in late September after general ballot language had been drafted to assure the item could go before voters in November.
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 idea of a major renovation to the current terminals — one of which has already been closed due to lack of need — was 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, although some supporters of the current design insisted a cheaper option could have been found.
Edgemoor has done more than $50 billion in aviation work and hopes to finish the project by November 2021, although the timeline should become more specific in coming months. Public input meetings will be scheduled for later in the year, according to reports, allowing for supporters and opponents to provide input on design.
The ballot measure came together quickly, and the campaign for Better KCI had limited time to try and assure approval. Limited polls ahead of the vote showed slight favor for the new terminal, but there were no predictions of Tuesday’s landslide.
City officials maintained that there was no “Plan B” if voters rejected the proposal, making KCI’s future uncertain.
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.
No carriers have promised an increase in flights, but leaders hope to see that growth along with more direct destinations with the new single terminal.