YAEL T. ABOUHALKAH

Three terminals or one at KCI? Four steps to clarity

Updated: 2013-04-25T00:28:01Z

By YAEL T. ABOUHALKAH

The Kansas City Star

Calm down, everyone. The controversial, costly single terminal proposed for Kansas City International Airport is still a project in motion.

So far the powers-that-be at City Hall — Mayor Sly James, a majority of City Council members and the Aviation Department — want it to go forward. That means sending plans for a $1.2 billion terminal to Washington for review.

Like many local business leaders and some fliers, I am leaning toward construction of a project that could give this entire region a modern, convenient facility for the next 50 years.

But passionate opposition could kill the proposed terminal, most likely if there’s ever a public vote in Kansas City to issue bonds for it.

Critics have been out in force, pointing out how convenient the current airport is for many fliers and how the traveling public already has spent $250 million on KCI improvements.

So what should the next steps in this debate be?

Here are four suggestions:

• James should appoint a broad-based citizens group to examine the pros and cons, then propose a clear path of action.

The mayor has used public reviews — with varying degrees of success — on city pensions, police control and city finances.

In a Tuesday interview, the mayor indicated he was leaning in this direction again “to give citizens an opportunity to weigh in.” They deserve it.

• Aviation Director Mark VanLoh and City Council member Russ Johnson need to fade into the background.

Both have come across in public settings as being cavalier about many of the public’s concerns. In a particularly arrogant public hearing several weeks ago, Johnson basically insulted anyone supporting the current KCI.

Many local residents are still in the fact-gathering mode about the terminal. They are not interested in being lectured by city officials. Or by an out-of-town consultant too eager to dump on the airport that many people love.

• Pull together factual information that directly answers questions or concerns posed by critics.

Most people love the convenience of pulling up to the gates and picking up passengers. VanLoh and others say the new terminal will offer much of that convenience. Prove it, with facts and figures.

Also, supporters claim Kansas City could gain airlines and nonstop flights with a new terminal, and the local economy would benefit. Prove it by examining what’s happened at a handful of our competing cities that recently built new terminals. Don’t let opponents cherry-pick a failure here or there; let the public have a look at what’s happened at all the rebuilt airports.

• Remember history and how attention-getting detractors don’t always speak for the majority.

In 1998 critics of the original $454 million, publicly subsidized Power & Light entertainment district forced the project on to the ballot with an initiative petition. But project supporters won that vote and, ultimately, downtown is a better place for residents and visitors because of that decision.

In 2004 a lot of people wanted to kill a proposed downtown arena and keep the recently updated Kemper Arena. But voters once again spoke up for progress: They supported financing for what has become the highly successful Sprint Center.

We absolutely must listen to people who oppose the new terminal. But as James said this week, “I hear a lot of people who say the exact opposite.” In other words, they want the project to proceed.

These backers may be sufficient to eventually mount a successful bond election. Or the love of the current KCI may be too overpowering to conquer.

Either way, the idea of overhauling KCI needs a lot more examination and discussion before final decisions are made.

To reach Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or send email to abouhalkah@kcstar.com. He blogs at voices.kansascity.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/YaelTAbouhalkah.

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