Government & Politics

Council committee supports increased legal fees for ongoing KCI review

A Kansas City Council committee supported doubling airport legal fees Wednesday as the council continues to weigh options for modernizing Kansas City International Airport.
A Kansas City Council committee supported doubling airport legal fees Wednesday as the council continues to weigh options for modernizing Kansas City International Airport. Kansas City Star file photo

The Kansas City Council will vote Thursday on a measure to spend an additional $475,000 on outside legal advice as it strives to figure out a flight plan for Kansas City International Airport’s modernization.

The council originally authorized spending up to $475,000 in legal fees on May 18, as it considered a proposal by Kansas City-based Burns & McDonnell to design, build and privately finance a new single terminal at KCI. The two law firms selected were Kansas City-based Husch Blackwell and Washington, D.C.-based Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr.

But they burned through that original $475,000 in one month, as the process changed and grew more complicated to solicit proposals from other engineering firms as well.

So the Airport Committee on Wednesday endorsed an additional $475,000, which council members hope will carry them through at least the next few months of selecting a preferred proposal and preparing a ballot measure to go to voters in November. The legal fees measure goes to the full council on Thursday.

Councilman Scott Wagner raised concerns Wednesday about the mounting fees, especially since this legal contract was awarded without bids. He worried about how those costs may mount astronomically through what could be a five-year terminal design and construction time frame.

But Councilman Quinton Lucas defended the expense for legal expertise, providing advice on the best way to seek qualified firms to do the terminal job at the best value and cost.

“I think most of it is valid,” Lucas said. “We’re trying to protect the flying public for decades to come.”

Lucas pointed out that the aviation department has spent more than $9 million in the past five years on a variety of consultants for airport master planning, terminal development and lease negotiations.

City Attorney Cecilia Abbott assured the committee she will scrutinize the expenses to make sure she is satisfied with the legal services provided.

City Council members have said they believe they are getting very good legal advice that has improved the city’s process to find the best engineering firm and financing approach for the airport.

Lynn Horsley: 816-226-2058, @LynnHorsley

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