Less than a month ahead of an Aug. 24 deadline to put the KCI single terminal question before voters this year, there’s still no clear consensus on what the Kansas City Council wants voters to decide.
Part of that decision-making is hampered by the fact that council members have not yet seen outside proposals for designing, building and financing the construction of the $1 billion project.
“Frankly, it’s getting more confusing the more you talk about it,” Kansas City Mayor Sly James said in a joint meeting between the council’s transportation and airport committees Thursday morning.
So far, the working ballot language is broad; it essentially asks voters if Kansas City should be authorized to build a new passenger terminal at KCI and demolish existing terminals with all costs for the project coming from revenues generated by the airport itself.
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The word “private” appears nowhere in the current ballot language. That’s because the city’s hired bond attorneys from law firm Kutak Rock have said that references to private financing in the bond language could threaten the tax-exempt nature of any bonds issued for the project.
“That could imply some ownership or right (belongs to) the developer doing the financing,” said Tammy Queen, Kansas City’s deputy director of finance.
Some council members are keen on private financing for the KCI project; they believe voters will have an easier time casting a vote in favor of a single terminal if private funds are used. Companies like Burns & McDonnell, which is vying for the contract to do the terminal project, also say construction time lines are shorter with private financing.
Others on the council say they can’t know if private financing is better without a comparison to a public financing model through aviation revenue bonds, the more common method of airport terminal financing.
It also emerged during Thursday morning’s discussion that public agencies such as the Port Authority of Kansas City or the Industrial Development Agency could act as a conduit in issuing airport debt. It’s not clear if any of the companies that aspire for the KCI project would use one of these agencies. The first deadline for proposals on the KCI project is Thursday afternoon. Proposers will then issue the details of their financing plan on Aug. 10.
A selection committee will begin interviewing companies that submit proposals on Aug. 14. The selection committee consists of council members Jolie Justus and Jermaine Reed, City Manager Troy Schulte, Kansas City Aviation Department Director Pat Klein and two other aviation department employees.
Katheryn Shields, a Kansas City Councilwoman, said she wanted to know if other members of the council could be part of those discussions with proposers, warning that she would cast a “big fat no” vote if she can’t see all the proposals before making a final decision.
“And that doesn’t mean 15 minutes before we vote,” Shields said.