The Kansas City Council is expected to take a critical vote this week on a deal with Edgemoor Infrastructure to design and build a new terminal at Kansas City International Airport.
The process to pick a terminal developer has been long and difficult. Yet there are encouraging signs a majority of council members understands it’s time to bring the first part of the process to an end by endorsing the memorandum of understanding with Edgemoor.
The City Council members who have worked hard on this decision, often in the face of secret political pressure, deserve credit. The new terminal will likely be the biggest single public project any of them will ever undertake. When a $1 billion job is at stake, careful consideration is essential.
Sadly, politics made the process more difficult than it should have been. This week, the politics should come to an end.
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To be clear: Some council members have opposed Edgemoor from the start, and they have worked for months to undermine negotiations with the firm. They’ll likely vote no this Thursday.
But others have said tougher negotiations with Edgemoor would result in a better deal for the city. In December, they joined with the never-Edgemoor members to reject the firm’s memorandum of understanding.
The decision shocked much of Kansas City. Council members could have sent the agreement back to committee for further discussion instead of killing it but chose not to do so. We were critical at the time.
In the end, though, the vote exposed the surreptitious effort to sink Edgemoor, angering thousands of Kansas Citians. Their fury prompted the council to quickly re-open the Edgemoor talks, but with a new approach: firm deadlines with open, public discussion of concerns.
That decision was critical. Council members could no longer attack the Edgemoor proposal in secret backrooms, with shifting demands and agendas. Instead, in an open session, council members made their concerns known.
Edgemoor was given the opportunity to respond to the list of requests. Last week, the company said it had addressed 43 of the council’s 45 concerns.
“Edgemoor has learned a lot,” said Kansas City Councilwoman Alissia Canady. “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.”
Transparency and sunshine always lead to better government.
The new proposed memorandum of understanding, or MOU, has reduced the city’s exposure if it decides to walk away from the deal at a future date. It increases money for the so-called community benefits agreement, which includes programs for training, worker health, transportation and child care.
Edgemoor remains committed to using minority- and women-owned businesses for 35 percent of the project. Meeting those targets will be essential.
Some labor unions — not all — have complained about Edgemoor’s reluctance to sign an agreement guaranteeing 100 percent union labor on the terminal. Edgemoor has said that goal is incompatible with its efforts to hire minority- and women-owned firms at KCI since many of those companies are non-union.
Edgemoor should agree to as much union work as possible, but labor’s demands cannot be considered more important than the imperative to involve long-disadvantaged businesses in the project. And labor’s concerns should be addressed outside of the MOU process.
Labor’s often clumsy, hidden campaign to upend the Edgemoor deal is also a concern. Council members should reject such secret pressure.
Thursday’s vote won’t be the end of the process for a new terminal, even if the council ratifies the Edgemoor memorandum of understanding. The city must still reach a deal with the airlines to pay for the project, for example.
Edgemoor will need to find a local agency that can borrow for the project, and the bonds will have to be marketed and sold. Design work will continue, and a definitive price must be set (look for it to exceed $1 billion.)
A development agreement with Edgemoor will face a ratification vote.
But agreeing to the Edgemoor MOU is an important step. It will end the procurement work that started so unevenly last summer. It will send a strong signal to losing bidders that the time has come to stop their obstruction.
We have never endorsed the specifics of the Edgemoor bid. But we strongly support the process that led to Edgemoor’s selection: a fair, open competition that will provide a better terminal, while saving travelers $400 million over the next 30 years.
Kansas City’s voters overwhelmingly showed their faith in that process in November when they agreed to build a new terminal at KCI knowing Edgemoor would be the developer.
Rejecting Edgemoor now would not just hurt the company. It would break faith with those voters and send a horrible signal to other companies about the city’s commitment to a fair and open selection process.
It also would set the process back by months, perhaps years, with the chance that a similarly messy battle would erupt again. The airlines won’t accept such a delay, and Kansas Citians should not be forced to endure one.
The Kansas City Council can avoid those outcomes Thursday by agreeing to the new memorandum of understanding with Edgemoor. We’re confident a majority of members will side with the people, and proceed with the airport project.