Kansas City Mayor Sly James changed course on Tuesday, announcing that the city would request proposals to design, build and finance a new terminal at Kansas City International Airport.
“The process begins today,” the mayor told reporters.
Actually, the process began 10 weeks ago, when city officials first started discussing a secret plan by engineering firm Burns & McDonnell to oversee construction of the $1 billion facility.
On May 11, The Star published the first details of the no-bid plan, forcing the city and the company into the sunlight. Since then, we have repeatedly urged the mayor and council to seek other proposals for the project.
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As of Tuesday, they’re doing just that.
Kansas Citians now should be far more confident that the final airport agreement will be cost-effective and competitive, reflecting the best practices in airport design.
The ground shifted last week, when AECOM, the largest airport design firm in the country, said it wanted to be considered for the new terminal deal. City officials said Tuesday they think other firms may also offer bids on the project.
Proposals are due June 20, with presentations expected June 22. A final council vote is likely to happen in mid-July, only a month behind the original schedule.
Voters will be heard in November.
Approval won’t be easy. The City Council will need to convince Kansas Citians that the airport will still be easy to use and that the city’s finances won’t be harmed by the project.
Tuesday’s announcement is a significant step in the right direction.
At the same time, we’ll want to keep a close eye on some of the details:
▪ The best proposal will be chosen by a four-person committee, which will make a recommendation to the council for a final up-or-down vote.
The committee’s role is crucial. Members must continue to seek comments from the public and their colleagues as they pick a design firm.
City Councilwoman Jolie Justus, a committee member, acknowledged Tuesday that some decisions will be subjective — some members may place a priority on design or cost, while others will make the financing structure the focus. They’ll have help from the outside counsel the city just hired, as well as a consultant for the airlines. Committee members will be asked to defend their choices. Any hint of a thumb on the scale for any bidder is unacceptable.
▪ Burns & McDonnell will be allowed to match the final offer of any competitor and win the contract. That shouldn’t be a problem: If AECOM or any other firm proposes a lower-cost plan or a faster build-out, Kansas City wins even if Burns & McDonnell matches the offer.
▪ The request for proposed bids does not include a public financing option. Instead, all participants will be asked to line up private lending for the project.
City officials insisted Tuesday that private lending won’t increase the costs for the airlines or the traveling public. We have no way to know if that’s true. A public financing alternative would help make the comparison.
Overall, though, the city’s decision to seek proposals on the airport terminal is the best decision it could make — and the most important.
We want a new single terminal at KCI. We’re more confident now that voters will share that view when they go to the polls in November.