Chances for an agreement between the city and airport developer Edgemoor improved Thursday when a City Council committee voted to approve a revised version of the pact, setting the stage for final action next week.
Also increasing prospects for a deal were statements by two council members previously opposed to the initial working agreement, known as a memorandum of understanding. Councilman Dan Fowler and Councilwoman Alissia Canady appeared to give the agreement the seven votes it would need to pass the full council.
But members and city officials cautioned that a week is a long time in politics, especially for a $1 billion project as fraught with infighting and palace intrigue as the KCI single terminal.
“We heard some good things coming out of our council members,” said Councilwoman Jolie Justus, the committee chairwoman. But she added: “We will not know until three o’clock next Thursday where they are....I never count anybody out or in until the actual vote takes place.”
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The new version of the agreement seems to have improved prospects for the Maryland firm that was the choice of a city selection committee last year. But it has had difficulty persuading the council that it is a reliable partner.
While the airport committee voted 6-0 to vote send the measure to the full council next week, the action reflected the thin margin of error for the pact. The committee could fast-track the proposal for final action Thursday. But expediting the ordinance would have required nine of 13 council votes, a majority the proposal currently lacks.
Out of public view but also consequential are ongoing negotiations between Edgenoor and construction trade unions on a “harmony agreement.” The sticking point remains labor’s insistence on an all-union work site. Edgemoor contends that it needs a partial exception to allow for the hiring of non-union minority and business-owned companies.
The politically influential trade unions have leaned hard on council members to oppose the memorandum in the absence of an all-union agreement.
Asked whether the council would vote on the memorandum of understanding in the absence of a labor agreement, Councilman Quinton Lucas suggested it could happen.
“I think at a certain point, we will need an MOU and we can’t necessarily wait forever,” Lucas said. “I expect us to have a vote next week regardless of if the labor issues are resolved.”
The ordinance represents Edgemoor’s second attempt at obtaining a memorandum of understanding, a working agreement that would put the terminal project on the path to construction. The council rejected the first version in December on a 9-4 vote citing a lack of specificity on financing and insufficient contributions to programs for low-income communities.
On Tuesday the firm returned with a revised draft that increased the package of economic and social benefits from $24 million to $28.8 million. That includes $8.9 million for workforce training programs and increased payments to community organizations that support home repair, historic preservation and economic development.
The new proposed pact also adds money for workforce housing and infrastructure in the Northland and inclusion of programs aimed at helping small local businesses owned by veterans.
Canady, while not a voting member of the Airport Committee, voiced her support for the current Edgemoor MOU on Thursday .
“In spite of how we got started, Edgemoor has learned a lot,” Canady said. “They had a very steep learning curve and they’ve demonstrated their willingness to work with this council and be part of the community in Kansas City.”
Canady said she was particularly heartened when Edgemoor agreed to help small minority firms increase their bonding capacity. Construction firms have to post a certain amount as protection against the possibility that they will not complete a job. Small firms have limited bonding capability.
“We removed most barriers for small, local, minority-owned businesses to be able to work on this project,” she said.
Fowler wouldn’t stake out a firm position, but said he was encouraged by the progress made on the MOU negotiations.
“Let’s put it this way: I don’t want to make a 100 percent commitment on it, but I think they’ve done an outstanding job of trying to satisfy the council’s concerns,” Fowler said.
If Fowler and Canady remain favorably disposed, they would join Mayor Sly James and Council members Katheryn Shields, Jermaine Reed, Quinton Lucas and Justus as a seven vote majority for the memorandum.
Kevin McManus, a council member who voted against the original MOU, said progress has been made with the latest version.
He has argued in favor of adding an interim report between now and the final development agreement with Edgemoor that details the progress of ongoing discussions.
“One thing that was missing, frankly, was a date where the city would have a formalized report prior to the final agreement as to the progress that they're making,” McManus said.
The council continues to hear from voices opposed to partnering with Edgemoor.
The Black Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday night urged the council to reject the Edgemoor MOU on the basis that minority owned businesses goals were lacking and that Edgemoor substantially changed the terms of its financial arrangement
“I would respectfully disagree with Black Chamber that the goals we have right now are not transformative,” Lucas said.
“At a certain point, you’ve got to make an agreement. You can’t just say no.”