By now many people have heard about the innovative plan put forward for financing and developing a new, single terminal at Kansas City International Airport.
Burns & McDonnell, an internationally recognized Kansas City-based, employee-owned engineering and construction company, is proposing to privately finance the project. The city would maintain 100 percent ownership of the airport, adding no debt to the city budget and completely removing taxpayer risk.
As a hometown partner, they’ve committed to making the project a “Kansas City team,” partnering with local companies to do the job and putting Kansas Citians to work.
This is a deal that I believe we can be proud of. But I know some are hesitant to see the current airport change. I get it.
The airport represents memories for all of us. I can remember picking up my son Malik as he returned from his service in the Marines. I won’t soon forget that moment, welcoming him home to his family and to Kansas City.
KCI has been a part of our city’s fabric since 1972. But here’s the thing: Our community has grown. Our needs as a city have changed. The KCI of the 20th century allowed Kansas City to see the world. Now, we need a 21st century airport that allows the world to come see Kansas City.
Debate over the future of KCI has gone on for six years with little progress. Just over a year ago, we hit pause on any plans to proceed with proposed changes. At the time, I asked the business community to step up and lead in this discussion.
That’s why I’m excited about the proposal put forward by Burns & McDonnell. Here’s what I like:
▪ We get the benefit of the third largest airport developer in the country, a company uniquely committed to a terminal that we can all be proud of. After all, Burns & McDonnell accounts for nearly 33,000 flights in and out of KCI each year.
▪ The proposal would require zero dollars of taxpayer money for financing, while Kansas City would remain the 100 percent owner and operator of the airport.
▪ Costs on the project will be agreed upon, and if they exceed the agreed upon amount, Burns & McDonnell is on the hook, not taxpayers.
▪ The financing is paid back by the airlines and people who use the airport through modest fees associated with parking, retail, concessions and tickets.
▪ A new terminal will not compromise the convenience currently provided by KCI’s pick-up and drop-off areas and will provide essential improvements, from security to concessions.
If the current proposal advances through the City Council, voters will have a chance to make the final decision at the ballot in November. We made a promise to residents that KCI’s future would receive a vote, and despite the fact that this private financing option has no taxpayer dollars included, I intend to keep my promise and allow residents their chance to decide.
In closing, consider this: As a city we know when a challenge demands a solution. Making progress is nothing new for us.
Think of the Sprint Center, Kauffman Center for Performing Arts, the KC Streetcar or Bloch Building. We have seamlessly blended the tradition of our history with a world-class vision for the future.
It’s now time to apply the same innovative mindset to our airport. Doing nothing is not an option.
The character of our city is what makes solutions like this possible. That is the Kansas City spirit.
We are setting the stage for a new generation of memories and moments — like my son’s return home — we will celebrate for the next 45 years.
Sly James is mayor of Kansas City.