A consultant to Kansas City’s airlines tried once and for all Tuesday to convince City Council members that a new single terminal is the best, most affordable option for the airport’s future.
Lou Salomon, chief operating officer for AvAirPros and a consultant to the air carriers at Kansas City International Airport, said Tuesday that a local architecture firm’s recent proposal to save and renovate the airport’s horseshoe terminals doesn’t accommodate expected 40 percent passenger growth and other operational needs in the coming decades.
“I’m not trying to solve today’s problems. I’m trying to solve tomorrow’s problems, with 40 percent more activity,” Salomon told the City Council’s Airport Committee.
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Salomon reports primarily to Southwest Airlines, Kansas City’s largest carrier, but all the airlines are working together on KCI terminal improvement planning. He was responding to council questions and skepticism that building a single new terminal at KCI will be cheaper and better than renovation at an airport for which the local public has great affection.
He flatly rejected a recent proposal by Kansas City-based Crawford Architects, partnering with a team of global aviation planning firms, to widen and renovate the airport’s horseshoe terminals.
He said he wasn’t taking shots at Crawford, but that team wasn’t at the table during months of analysis of the airport’s program requirements.
A leadership group of aviation and airline officials and their consultants, including AvAirPros, has spent nearly two years reviewing options for renovation or a new single terminal at KCI.
“They didn’t understand all that was required,” Salomon said of the Crawford plan, adding that it doesn’t meet KCI’s future needs for gates, baggage, technology, security, concessions, parking, international service or larger aircraft.
When all those additional needs and costs are factored in, Salomon argued, the Crawford plan would really cost $984 million, not the estimate of $672 million that Crawford had provided for two terminals.
“It’s not real,” Salomon said of Crawford’s cost estimates.
Crawford officials were not at Tuesday’s presentation.
But in a telephone interview later, Stacey Jones, an owner and partner with Crawford Architects, defended the plan and the lower cost estimates as reasonable.
In making its proposal, which first was revealed in The Kansas City Star last month, Crawford teamed with aviation design and construction specialists from other firms, including Woods Bagot in San Francisco and London-based Mott MacDonald.
“We’ll continue to advocate for this plan as long as there’s the political will to bring some additional sense into the discussion,” Jones said. “We deserve a better level of discourse in this community about this very, very important issue.”
Jones said the plan does allow for passenger growth, security and other program needs, and he thought the AvAirPros higher cost estimate was grossly inflated.
Salomon told the Airport Committee that the airlines serving the city have concluded a single terminal is the most efficient, flexible and functional approach, as well as the most economical solution to the airport’s future needs.
To that end, the planners forecast that the airport will grow from 4.9 million departing passengers today to 6.9 million departing passengers by 2030. The airport needs to grow, he said, from 29 gates currently to 35 in the future, and possibly to 42 gates.
In December, the leadership group reported to the City Council that the cheapest option for a new terminal ($964 million) was actually less expensive than the lowest estimated cost for gutting and rebuilding two terminals ($1.04 billion).
But at that same time, Kansas City-based Crawford Architects gave City Councilwoman Teresa Loar its rival proposal, with a more modest and less costly renovation approach.
Crawford suggested Terminal A, which is currently closed, could be widened and renovated, providing 18 or 19 gates. It would have new high-capacity security checkpoints, three baggage reclaim areas, retail areas on the secure side, plus add new floors to the existing close-in parking garage, all costing an estimated $336 million.
A second terminal could undergo a similar upgrade later, and Crawford estimated it would still be far cheaper than the other concepts.
Jones on Tuesday said that incremental, phased renovation approach makes sense.
“If something happens to the economy or to the airline industry that isn’t forward thinking, a backwards step, then we haven’t put all our eggs in a $1 billion basket,” he said.
Jones on Tuesday released attractive new renderings of what the renovated airport might look like. But Patrick Klein, assistant city manager and liaison to the city’s Aviation Department, said the renderings didn’t appear to match the modest plan outlined in December. He cautioned that it’s premature to provide any detailed pictures of what the airport improvements will look like, because that just creates unrealistic expectations from the public.
Salomon dismissed the Crawford phased approach as insufficient to solve all the airport’s needs, adding that two dozen other renovation options were also studied and found lacking. He said the airlines started out assuming renovation would be cheaper, but they’ve changed their minds, as all their analysis shows a new terminal would be less expensive.
The horseshoe configuration, he said, doesn’t allow for the larger aircraft that are emerging. And the convenient walking distances that passengers currently enjoy wouldn’t remain with renovation, he said.
Many business leaders also think Kansas City needs a new airport terminal. Just last week, Jubal Smith, executive vice president of Jones Lang LaSalle’s business site selection practice in Dallas, spoke to Kansas City area economic development officials.
He said Kansas City’s assets include its central location and affordable labor. And its detriments?
“You need a better airport,” he said, adding that its current configuration is “a very strange layout.”
The airlines, Salomon told the council committee, are now planning for a new terminal and figuring out what they can afford to build. He said the airlines are prepared to “make a major investment in Kansas City,” and he reminded the committee that local taxpayers will not pay for these improvements — the airlines and airport users will.
Committee chair Jolie Justus asked what happens if their recommendation is for a new terminal and the council and public don’t accept that. Salomon didn’t know.
Loar was clearly unpersuaded after the presentation and said she still can’t understand why renovation isn’t less expensive than building new.
“I need a lot more convincing,” she said, “and I think the citizens of Kansas City feel the same way.”
The leadership committee hopes to make a recommendation to the City Council on the future of KCI before May 1, but it’s up to the council to decide then how to proceed. Then Kansas City voters must approve any bond financing to help pay for major improvements and construction.
The Star’s Diane Stafford contributed to this report.