Government & Politics

KC mayor comes out strong for new airport terminal, streetcar expansion

Kansas City Mayor Sly James has been noticeably absent from recent town hall meetings about Kansas City International Airport, preferring to let the City Council and the public hash out contentious arguments about how to modernize the airport.

But on Monday evening, before a receptive downtown audience, James reiterated his strong support for a new single terminal, echoing the airlines’ refrain that the current facility just doesn’t work well for today’s larger and fuller planes and can’t be remodeled to work for the future.

“It’s a great airport for what it used to do,” James told a gathering of about 100 people on the rooftop of the remodeled Corrigan Station office at 1828 Walnut St. “It’s not a great airport for what we need to do.”

He also argued that expanding the downtown streetcar south to the University of Missouri-Kansas City “needs to happen,” while expansion from the River Market to Berkley Riverfront Park “would be smart and cool.”

A mail-in election, starting Tuesday and going through Aug. 1, will help determine whether the streetcar expands south, although the idea has staunch opponents as well as supporters. The Kansas City Streetcar Authority is exploring expansion to Berkley Riverfront Park, but that would not require a tax increase or an election.

James’ “fireside chat” was moderated by Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce President Joe Reardon. The rooftop setting provided a panoramic view of downtown, with construction cranes and many new and renovated buildings illustrating progress since James took office in 2011.

James recalled that when he first became mayor, the city was “stagnant and people were not very enthusiastic.” But he credited former Mayor Kay Barnes with laying the groundwork for much of downtown’s progress, with the Sprint Center and downtown Power & Light entertainment district. He said that was subsequently fueled by hard work from many people to bring forth the downtown streetcar and lots of other economic development.

James has two more years in office before he is term-limited out. Reflecting on that remaining time, James said further progress will depend in part on the whole metro area acting more collaboratively.

“We need to start thinking more regionally,” he said, adding that a more regional perspective could yield tremendous gains in transit, jobs, tech and education.

In his last two years, he said he’ll focus on a “people” agenda more than anything, pushing progress for youth, education and the East Side.

James’ talk was sponsored by WeWork KC, which is leasing four Corrigan Station floors and officially launches Aug. 1. The company provides a platform for freelancers, startups, small businesses and divisions of large companies. Adam Wacenske, the Dallas-based general manager for WeWork’s southern region, said the global company was attracted to open its latest offices in Kansas City because of the vibrancy and entrepreneurial spirit that James has championed.

Lynn Horsley: 816-226-2058, @LynnHorsley