Leaders of the KCI citizens task force say that despite the difficulties, they think they can soon forge a consensus on whether to renovate the airport’s terminals or build a new one.
That decision is intended to guide one of the Kansas City area’s most important public building projects of the next decade.
Although a few KCI Terminal Advisory Group members have said they don’t have enough information to make a solid recommendation, the two co-chairmen and others familiar with the deliberations think a group majority can agree on one of three possible airport terminal options. The decision, while unlikely to be unanimous, could become clear at Tuesday’s pivotal meeting or at one final meeting shortly after that.
The choice is among three alternatives: major renovation of the existing horseshoe terminals, renovation of the existing terminals with a central building connecting them, or construction of a new single terminal.
“I expect we will be able to come up with one of those alternatives that will be best for the city,” co-chairman Dave Fowler said, disputing some reports that the task force would not decide on a preferred terminal layout.
“I’m not going to meet for a whole year on something and not recommend something,” Fowler said, although he declined to reveal which alternative is gaining favor.
Mayor Sly James, who nearly a year ago appointed the diverse 24-person task force to explore the best path for Kansas City International Airport, said he, too, is optimistic that a specific choice will emerge soon from the group.
“There will be options presented, and it will be obvious how they stack up,” James said. “It’s going to be very helpful.”
Nevertheless, some task force members say key information is lacking to make a specific recommendation. Group member Kevin Koster, who has always opposed the single-terminal plan, said he and several others don’t think they have enough detailed financial estimates to make an informed choice.
“We’re missing too many numbers,” he said. “We’re better off making no recommendation than something with a lot of asterisks.”
He suggested it would be better to present the City Council with a list of options and observations rather than signaling a preference.
Tuesday’s meeting comes 11 months after James appointed the group to pick the best terminal configuration. That followed considerable public opposition to the Aviation Department’s recommendation for a new single terminal.
Since June, the group has met nearly every two weeks, gathering voluminous information on KCI finances, operations, capital improvements needs and comparisons with other airports. The task force also has heard divergent views from airlines, business leaders, security officials, airport consultants and several hundred citizens who turned out at four town hall meetings.
Fowler, a retired financial executive, and co-chairman Bob Berkebile, a Kansas City architect, agreed the terminal advisory group is in no position to recommend exactly what the airport would look like. But they added that was never their mission.
Instead, they say, the group does have sufficient information to give the city direction on the best way to proceed with modernizing the airport.
None of the proposed alternatives is to keep the airport as it is or to do only modest renovations, though that’s what many in the public have demanded. City officials, consultants and others say KCI needs major improvements, no matter what, to adapt its 40-year-old buildings to the 21st century aviation industry.
Among KCI’s deficiencies: aging plumbing, heating and cooling; constrained passenger security space and gates; lack of amenities; and inadequate close-in parking.
The three choices that Frasca and Associates aviation consultants identified for the task force:
• Major expansion on the individual horseshoe terminals, with additional passenger screening, new parking facilities and roadway reconfigurations, at a rough cost of more than $700 million. Shuttle buses would still connect the terminals.
• A new central passenger screening area connecting the existing terminals, which would be repurposed as secure passenger concourses, plus new parking and roadway configurations, at a rough cost of more than $700 million. Some kind of moveable walkway might be required through the concourses.
• A new single terminal, plus new parking and other features, at a rough cost of $800 million to $1.2 billion.
Koster said some details emerged very recently and haven’t been thoroughly discussed. And he still thought the group should consider a fourth option of baseline repairs to the three terminals, which the Aviation Department has roughly estimated at $365 million to $460 million.
“That’s a pretty big thing to take off the table,” he said.
Berkebile argued that option solves too few of KCI’s deficiencies to be a responsible choice.
Several council members say that no matter what the task force recommends, changing KCI will be a tough sell with a public that loves its convenience and doesn’t want many changes.
Dan Coffey, who led a successful effort demanding a public vote on any KCI changes, said several developments in the past year may be even more important than the task force’s recommendation.
One of those was a recent agreement between the Aviation Department and the airlines to work together to develop a terminal improvement plan, preferably by April 30, 2015, but no later than April 30, 2016. Both sides said they would use the task force’s report in their deliberations.
“That ball is in the court with the airlines and the airport people,” Coffey said. “I believe that’s where it belongs.”
James said there’s a lot riding on the task force’s recommendation. But he said it won’t back the City Council into a corner.
“This isn’t the end of the discussion, obviously,” he said. “The council is not bound by anything that comes out, although this will be a good place to start.”