Yael T. Abouhalkah

June 4, 2013

KCI terminal battle could get real ugly, real fast

The fight over whether to build a new terminal at Kansas City International Airport will have lots of twists and turns in 2013. It pits motivated opponents against city officials who, so far, have bungled their efforts to sell the project to local residents.

The battle over whether to build a new terminal at Kansas City International Airport could get real ugly, real fast, in the rest of 2013.

The fight has it all, including extremely motivated opponents who have taken advantage of the city’s bumbling attempts (so far) to sell the new terminal to local residents.

Take a look at what’s on the line:

• Lots of money.

The terminal could cost $1.2 billion. That means local contractors are going to be pushing for jobs to be created to build that terminal. So the Kansas City business community, at least big portions of it, likely will pull out all stops to get the terminal under way.

True, these funds would not come directly from higher taxes, but they would be pulled from passengers and others using the terminal. Already, some detractors are claiming elected officials will be influenced by the monied interests on this project.

• Political reputations.

Mayor Sly James essentially supports a new terminal, but is running into stiff headwind from some opponents. This could easily be the biggest test he faces in his first term, over whether he can persuade Kansas Citians to back the project.

If he fails, and puts a lot of political capital on the line, an opponent for the 2015 mayoral elections even could come forward. The KCI terminal isn’t likely to be James’ political Waterloo, but it’s still going to provide some bumps in the road for him.

• A test for voters.

Opponents of the KCI terminal hope to ask Kansas Citians later this year to approve an initiative that would force a vote on whether to issue bonds for the project.

One petition already has run afoul of city rules, and it’s unknown whether this latest initiative is legal and could actually require the City Council to listen to the people if the idea gets on the ballot.

My take: If James and the council eventually decide to proceed with the terminal, they absolutely should ask voters about whether they want to update the terminal.

Again, it’s not a tax increase. But KCI is an essential amenity that Kansas Citians need to feel connected to and proud of. If a new terminal is on the ballot, Kansas Citians should have the opportunity to push it forward — or kill it.

One point to keep in mind is that, starting Thursday, a citizens commission appointed by James will begin looking into the KCI terminal decision.

If this group arrives at a conclusion either pushing or pulling the plug on the terminal, it could reduce some of the controversy over the topic.

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