One week ago, the Kansas City Council threw the airport’s new terminal project into doubt when it voted against a proposed agreement with its chosen airport developer.
But on Thursday, the council stepped back from the brink of apparent disaster and voted 12-1 to resume negotiations with the development team led by Edgemoor Infrastructure & Real Estate.
“I believe we should be able to move forward in a very efficient way,” Mayor Sly James said, noting that the new framework provides specific dates in January when the Council can weigh in collaboratively rather than just relying on lawyers working behind the scenes.
Thursday’s vote gives more time to the city’s legal team and Edgemoor to negotiate a path forward for the $1 billion terminal project. It sets out a process for the council to have collective input, and a time line for frequent status reports in January, with a goal of possibly completing the memorandum of understanding by Jan. 30.
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Thursday’s vote also sets aside a proposal from City Councilman Lee Barnes that would have terminated negotiations with Edgemoor and directed the city manager to instead negotiate a contract with AECOM and the KCI Partnership, the runner-up team behind Edgemoor in the original procurement process.
On Monday, KCI Partnership announced that hometown bidder Burns & McDonnell, which lost out on the original bidding, had joined its effort.
Barnes was the lone vote against the new negotiation process. He says Edgemoor has not been responsive to his concerns about sufficient community benefits and substantial minority participation in the airport development. But the council majority concluded it was premature to give up on Edgemoor.
The memorandum of understanding is a preliminary road map for the airport construction project, outlining such elements as the developer’s risks and obligations, the outlines of the financing structure, provisions of a community benefit agreement, minority contracting goals and local hiring preferences.
On Dec. 14, the council shocked many in the business community and residents by voting 9-4 against the proposed MOU with Edgemoor. James blasted those nine for what he saw as a politically motivated and damaging vote.
But several in the majority — including council members Kevin McManus, Scott Wagner and Dan Fowler — countered that they had legitimate and serious concerns that the MOU was full of holes and left the city financially vulnerable.
They expressed concerns about the agreement’s vague terms, insufficient community benefits and worries about a provision that could pay Edgemoor up to $30 million or even more money if the final contract never closes later next year.
Then on Tuesday, the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce sent a strongly-worded letter to the mayor and council urging them to get their act together and to get the airport development plans back on track.
The Chamber reminded the council that voters in November overwhelmingly approved the building of a new terminal at KCI. At that time, it was understood that Edgemoor was the preferred development team, so the Chamber said the council owed it to voters to negotiate in good faith with Edgemoor, to try to finish the deal without giving up.
Some City Hall observers argued that the memorandum simply wasn’t ready for consideration last week and should have been held in committee for more polishing, to avoid the soap opera of the past week. But others said this was a wake-up call to Edgemoor and the negotiating team that council members are reading the memorandum closely and want it to be well written, to protect the city’s interests and those of the regional flying public.
Council members Quinton Lucas and Alissia Canady said Thursday that the nine who voted against the agreement last week had good reasons for doing so.
“We had a document that didn’t work. It wasn’t right,” Lucas said.
Canady said the blame game and finger-pointing among council members and some members in the community wasn’t helpful, especially because skeptics on the council were trying to get the best possible deal for the city. Supporters of Thursday’s resolution said this reboot allows them a chance to get past the discord and to push for a solid agreement.
Edgemoor Managing Director Geoffrey Stricker has said repeatedly that his team is ready to address any concerns and will work hard to craft an acceptable agreement.
The resolution approved Thursday calls for the city’s outside counsel of Husch Blackwell and Wilmer Hale to resume negotiations with Edgemoor.
The Council will get an update Jan. 9, including specificity on financial terms and obligations, provisions of a community benefit agreement, local workforce hiring, minority participation in contracting, workforce protection and other issues. More updates and opportunities to address council concerns would come throughout January, with the hope of finishing the job at the end of that month.