In just a few hours Tuesday, major storm clouds parted over two significant projects that have the potential to dramatically bolster Kansas City’s future.
▪ Consultants for airlines that serve Kansas City International Airport brushed aside concerns that paying for a major renovation or — their preference — a brand new terminal would push ticket prices a lot higher.
Instead, airport officials and the consultants said passengers would not see major changes in how much it costs to park at or fly out of KCI.
This is another positive development as city officials move closer to making a final decision on whether to ask voters to endorse a bond issue required to build a $1 billion project.
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Officials also provided upbeat assessments of how KCI passenger growth could occur in the future, justifying a decision to build a new terminal with larger waiting rooms and modern amenities.
▪ In a second positive development, a citizens group dropped its attempt to force a public vote on whether taxpayers should help finance a proposed downtown hotel that would serve to bring more conventions and visitors to Kansas City.
The decision was much needed. A Jackson County Circuit Court judge recently ruled against all of the group’s challenges to the city’s spending plan.
This week’s developments are key in another way: They help provide Mayor Sly James and the business community with a more optimistic outlook on what could happen in the earnings tax election on April 5.
Voters have good reasons to renew the 1 percent tax for five years. It provides more than 40 percent of revenue for the city’s general fund, and 70 percent of that is used for police, fire and ambulance services. James points out that a defeat at the polls could lead to layoffs of hundreds of public safety personnel plus other city staff members.
But resistance to the KCI overhaul plan and the legal challenge to the hotel have caused some public relations headaches for the mayor and other tax supporters.
Eliminating the court case over the hotel removes part of that distraction.
And the airlines’ support for the new terminal — backed up with better explanations on how the project would be financed — will help alleviate (but not eliminate) the public’s concern over that project.
Moving forward, there’s still plenty left on the city’s plate to make sure the best possible KCI proposal makes it to the ballot.
One high priority is how convenient a new terminal could be for passengers. This subject deserves close scrutiny from City Council member Jolie Justus and the Airport Committee she leads.
A large majority of Kansas City area residents like the convenience of the current horseshoe-shaped terminals, especially when it comes to dropping off and picking up passengers. That attachment to the status quo helps explain why unscientific opinion surveys don’t favor construction of a new terminal.
But Justus and her committee are methodically studying objections to the project while also considering reasons to pursue it.
Last year, the airlines that serve KCI said they favored a new terminal over major renovations. And now this week they have revealed their support for a proposed pooling of funds to pay for the project. The city could have valuable allies in the airlines if a bond election were held in 2016 or 2017.
However, at some point the City Council panel needs to hear more detailed explanations of how a brand new terminal could deliver a high degree of convenience for tomorrow’s passengers and how it would make more economic sense than a major renovation.
One more point on KCI: Despite the recent spate of good news, James and the council must stay focused on listening to criticism of all parts of the new terminal plan. Dealing with opponents’ arguments now could lead to a smoother bond campaign later.
As for the hotel, developers of the proposed $311 million Hyatt need to quickly capitalize on the city’s legal victory and break ground soon.
They have had months to get financing firmed up for the project. Now that their fears of a long delay for the project have been allayed, it’s time to show Kansas Citians the hotel is a solid deal worthy of public investment.