Argument for, against single-terminal KCI heats up in Northland

Sheila Tracy, left, president of the Northland Regional Chamber of Commerce, addressed the crowd at a town hall meeting Tuesday in the Northland to discuss the future of Kansas City International Airport.
Sheila Tracy, left, president of the Northland Regional Chamber of Commerce, addressed the crowd at a town hall meeting Tuesday in the Northland to discuss the future of Kansas City International Airport. tporter@kcstar.com

A town hall meeting to discuss the future of Kansas City International Airport didn’t do much to sway proponents on either side Tuesday in the Northland, but the standstill may be a moot point if city officials get their way.

Hosted by District 2 Council members Dan Fowler and Teresa Loar Tuesday at Northland Cathedral, the meeting centered on a $1 billion project to reconstruct the airport.

Arguments were pretty even throughout the evening with residents and community stakeholders that want a new-single terminal airport and others that prefer the current three-terminal model with upgrades and renovations.

The city revealed in May that it had been in discussions since March with Burns & McDonnell over a private financing model for KCI. The initial proposal put Burns & McDonnell and its partner, Americo Life Inc., in the driver’s seat for a no-bid contract to design, build and privately finance the KCI project.

The private finance idea appealed to Kansas City Mayor Sly James and City Manager Troy Schulte, who said the arrangement could get the new terminal built faster and insulate taxpayers from risk.

Any decision to refashion KCI’s three-terminal design into a single structure must be voter-approved although taxpayers will not foot the bill.

Councilman Dan Fowler opened the forum and emphasized that renovations to the airport are no longer being considered because only a new single terminal will meet current aviation standards.

The airlines, Fowler said, guarantee the debt for a new terminal, but not renovations. Airlines told the city that a new terminal would cost less than renovating.

“We have to have them as that backstop, so it’s important to listen to what they have to say,” Fowler said. “They are, in many respects, the drivers of this.”

Those who attended Tuesday’s forum were divided on whether a single terminal was the best course of action. Aaron Schmidt was in favor and said he flies in and out of the airport at least 20 times each year.

“We teach our kids to be proud of the city, to be involved in the community,” Schmidt said. “Right now, our airport is really nothing to be proud of. We feel that major improvements are definitely necessary.”

Bill Super questioned why residents haven’t seen detailed images of how the new terminal would look.

“I want to know how much less convenient it’s going to be,” he said. “I hear a lot about: ‘The people from out of town don’t like (the airport).’ Well, this is my airport. It’s not theirs.”

Sheila Tracy, president of the Northland Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the organization used outside counsel to research the validity of the project.

The Chamber, Tracy said, favors a voter-approved single-terminal airport.

“We constantly come back to two things,” she said. “A November election and a new single-terminal.”

Alicia Stephens, executive director of the Platte County Economic Development Council, cited research for the Council’s position on a new airport. She said 80 percent of airport fares are paid by non-area residents, whom, like local travelers, pay for the airport when they purchase tickets.

“Why would we not let someone else build an airport for us,” Stephens said.

Jerry Hughes, an Uber driver, said his out-of-town passengers love how easy traveling at KCI is. He questioned Fowler’s stance that renovations aren’t feasible.

“I can tell you that everyone who gets in who’s new to Kansas City says ‘God, you’ve got a great airport.’ There’s nothing like walking off the jetway and into a car in less than 100 feet,” he said. “To lose that convenience is a shame, especially when it’s probably not necessary.”

Some urged the City Council to include the public’s opinion before making decisions.

“There’s too much interference with private companies trying to get a leg up and ignoring the wishes of the public,” Dennis Lucas said. “I would advise the council to take care of the customers — the citizens — first.”

The City Council met for three hours Tuesday afternoon in a closed session with lawyers. Afterward, council members said they would consider extending the deadline for airport design companies to submit proposals for the new terminal. Right now, the deadline is June 20.

“The process we’re going through now is going to be dramatically altered,” Fowler said at Tuesday’s forum. “We’re going to have to step back and rethink how we’re going about doing what we’re doing right now.”

Another public hearing will take place at 9:15 a.m. on Thursday at City Hall, in the 26th floor Council Chambers.

Star intern Ellen Cagle contributed to this report.

Toriano Porter: 816-234-4779, @torianoporter