A summer of confusion and disagreement over the process for a new terminal at Kansas City International Airport has come to an end.
Let the fall campaign begin.
In November, Kansas City voters will be asked if they want to demolish existing terminals as necessary, then replace them with a new single terminal. The City Council agreed Thursday to put that simple, fundamental choice on the ballot.
A new single terminal at KCI is needed. In the coming weeks, we’ll explain why in greater detail.
Our support isn’t unshakable, however. We’re watching for an airport campaign that is fact-based and fair, not one filled with misleading claims and wild promises.
Voters won’t be fooled by flashy slogans or aging sports stars. They want the truth.
Opponents of a new terminal also have a responsibility to focus on facts, not distortions. Early signs are not encouraging: One group opposed to the question has issued press releases revealing a misunderstanding of how the terminal would be paid for.
If voters know nothing else about this project, they should understand this: Taxpayers aren’t on the hook for the costs. Airport users are.
With that fact firmly in mind, here’s what we’d like to see discussed in the upcoming campaign.
▪ Convenience. The City Council has yet to pick a terminal designer, although progress is expected on that front this week. Four firms have offered proposals.
Interestingly, most of the public attention so far has been focused on the cost of proposed designs, not the specifics.
Cost is important. But the campaign must explain how a new terminal would be more convenient for travelers — better ticketing, faster security checks, accessible parking.
Kansas Citians must hear much more from the airlines during the fall campaign. While the airlines can’t make binding commitments for additional flights over the next four decades, a firm promise of additional service will get some travelers to the polls.
▪ Jobs. Voters should be skeptical about claims of 18,000 jobs at the airport. There will be construction jobs, but those will go away once the terminal is built. New terminal jobs will likely be low-paying, entry-level positions.
Still, a promise of jobs and an economic boost will make a difference for voters who never use the airport. That will be critical. So will a commitment to hire minority- and women-controlled firms for the project.
▪ Financing. Voters won’t want to rehash the debate over public vs. private financing, but they will need to see — in clear language — what the terminal will cost and what the debt service will be each year.
Finally, a word about politics.
The messy debate over the terminal has clearly damaged chances for passage in November. The voting public is skeptical about City Hall and the need for a new facility. Turnout is likely to be low.
That’s why the campaign needs to generate some excitement. That’s particularly true with younger voters — the terminal is really about their futures, not those of older Kansas Citians.
There is a strong argument to be made for a new airport terminal in Kansas City. Supporters must make that case during the next 10 weeks. If they do so, voters will make the right decision in November.