Trying to fix a flawed bidding process, the Kansas City Council put the finishing touches Tuesday on a revised request for proposals for firms to design, build and privately finance a new terminal at Kansas City International Airport.
The process now calls for all interested engineering firms with airport expertise to submit qualifications by July 27 and financing details by Aug. 10. The goal is still to have a public vote in November.
“This is it. This will be the final addendum,” Councilwoman Jolie Justus, chairwoman of the Airport Committee, said of the solicitation that the city intended to make public on its website late Tuesday. “We are confident in the process we are putting forward. It is transparent and clear what we’re asking for.”
That wasn’t the case just last week, when City Councilman Quinton Lucas complained, “We’re flying without any type of direction.” Lucas and several council members were frustrated that in recent weeks, the city has lurched along in its latest effort to get a modernization plan off the ground for KCI.
In early May, Mayor Sly James and City Manager Troy Schulte said they were supporting Kansas City-based Burns & McDonnell’s proposal for an exclusive deal to design, build and privately finance a new terminal at KCI. But after criticism about a backroom deal, the city agreed to open up the bidding to other firms, with a June 20 deadline.
With that open solicitation, Burns & McDonnell was orally promised the right of first refusal. Then, when questions of legality arose, the right of first refusal was taken off the table. Then outside lawyers advised the City Council that the June 20 deadline was too hasty.
So on Tuesday, the council met in closed session for more than two hours to draft a final set of clear rules and deadlines.
After several weeks of contentious arguments, council members said it was a productive discussion, with broad consensus in the room. Everyone was present except for council members Teresa Loar, Heather Hall and Dan Fowler.
“There were a lot of substantive changes. It was a good discussion, and I think it will improve the process,” Councilman Kevin McManus said.
Council members said they are optimistic that this extended solicitation deadline will still allow time to choose a firm and a financing method before Aug. 24, when they must adopt ballot language for the November ballot. The final say on the airport’s path forward rests with Kansas City voters.
“I do believe we’re on track,” Councilwoman Katheryn Shields said after the meeting. “I think we have a very good process.”
Shields has introduced an ordinance that calls for the council to consider a public financing option of airport revenue bonds for the new airport terminal. That ordinance is expected to be debated by the council the week of June 26, since the council is off the week of June 19.
Justus and Schulte said the request for proposals still focuses on private financing, not public airport revenue bonds. But they said the solicitation process is flexible enough that if the council ultimately decides public financing is the better approach, they won’t have to redo this request for proposals.
Schulte explained it’s a two-part solicitation. Firms will be asked to submit their qualifications by July 27, detailing why they are the best choice. The council will then narrow the field. Then firms will be asked to submit their private financing approach by Aug. 10, unless the council has decided by then that public financing is truly the better option.
The city would then judge the best financing deal to bring the new terminal, estimated at about $1 billion, to fruition. The original goal was to get the airport improvements completed by 2024, but Burns & McDonnell has argued that private financing speeds up the process to the point that the airport project could be completed by 2022.
Schulte cautioned that it will be quite a challenge for the City Council to do all this review in time to complete ballot language by Aug. 24.
“It’s going to be very tight,” he said. “It’s a tough schedule, but the City Council wanted to give as much time for the market to work as possible.”