Kansas Citians are being asked to jilt their beloved KCI.
By KEITH CHROSTOWSKI
The Kansas City Star
Of course, theyre reluctant. The airports in-and-out convenience born of its unique trio of semi-circular terminals has a solid hold on their hearts. Mine, too.
And many think spending $1.2 billion on a new single terminal is just ridiculous.
Our love affair with the 1972-built KCI has bloodied the advocates of a new airport, a point made in a Page One story in the Sunday Star. Their arguments for single-terminal design have largely been drowned out.
So in the interest of a full and fair debate, lets for a few paragraphs give the advocates of a single terminal their say. Lets get hard-headed about this.
The airport is indeed outdated in light of the consolidations that have swept up airlines in the last decade. The three-terminal design is overly complicated and expensive to maintain and operate.
Theres a reason, advocates point out, that KCI has lost so much traffic that Terminal A is empty and closed.
The airport has lost any hope of becoming a hub which is saying something given Kansas Citys central location and longtime status as a crossroads for rail and trucking transportation and telecommunications infrastructure.
Do we truly want to be fly-over territory?
And while it is easy to get in and out of KCI, its not easy actually being in the airport.
There are 16 security stations, manned by hundreds of of Transportation Security Administration staffers, compared with one checkpoint and relatively few TSA staff at most big airports. KCIs stations are cramped, and once you go through security, youre trapped by your gate.
Connecting passengers often have to switch terminals and go through security again.
Its difficult to operate top-flight amenities, such as restaurants or service clubs, because masses of fliers arent concentrated.
As a front door to the city, some argue, KCI just isnt that impressive.
Imagine business executives coming to town to check out moving their companies to the Kansas City area or doing business here.
And their first on-the-ground glimpse of Kansas City is landing at the airport.
The overall scale of the immediate surroundings is, to say the least, not big. The curve of the terminals cuts off any vista.
And the interior design isnt particularly visually striking. It does look like it was built decades ago.
You couldnt blame executives for thinking theyve landed in a smallish city. And for having a small grain of doubt entering their calcuations about moving here.
The renderings of a single terminal and gates are still basic. A new airport would provide an opportunity to add to the citys striking architectural stock with a design that matches our ambitions.
Take a look at some of the new airports that have been built in this country and around the world recently.
You see cool-looking main terminals that shepherd you through security at a good clip. People movers, and even monorails like the one at the new Detroit airport, get you to and from your gate quickly and, yes, conveniently.
Gate areas can be striking cigar-shaped, all glass and jammed with amenities: shops, cafes, lounges, kids play areas, Internet stations.
All in all, the loss of flights over the years forcing travelers from KCI to have to make and pay for more connecting flights than they would at a busier airport along with KCIs underwhelming impression cant help but be a drag on the regional economy.
As for the $1.2 billion price tag, every story about that should note that the money wont come from general taxpayers, or that its money that could be spent on something else. Construction bonds would be paid back with a designated revenue stream of fees on airlines and fliers. And with interest rates so low, now is a great time to borrow money.
Also, most of the money spent on a new airport would go into the pockets of local contractors and thousands of area construction workers.
Finally, replacing the airport, say 20 years from now, would probably cost more than $2 billion. In the meantime, KCI would further deteriorate.
For those who love the old KCI, all this probably doesnt matter. After fully hashing out pros and cons, Kansas Citians may want to stick with the old flame.
To carry the day, new-airport advocates will have to heavily restack the deck of arguments in their favor.
Thats whats going to be required to toss over a 40-year love affair.