Kansas City Mayor Sly James told a town hall meeting Wednesday night that it’s high time for a decision once and for all on the future of Kansas City International Airport.
And the mayor said he will live with whatever voters decide in November, whether to accept or reject a new single-terminal airport.
“This is a generational decision for this city,” James told a sparse crowd of about 60 people at the Gem Theater, consisting mostly of longtime supporters and opponents of a new single-terminal project that’s been the topic of countless public forums. “We’re either going to build it or not.”
James has been a staunch proponent of a new $1 billion terminal, especially after Southwest and the other airlines unanimously recommended new construction over renovations of the existing horseshoe terminals in 2016. Kansas City has been sharply divided on that question for years, but the mayor said the airlines can’t wait any longer, and dragging the conversation out isn’t going to make the decision any easier. He said November is the right time for citizens to vote, and he will accept whatever they decide.
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He said he’s confident residents won’t miss this opportunity and will understand the value of the investment. But he also said that, if voters reject a new single terminal, then airport improvements will be up to the next mayor to try to accomplish after James leaves office in August 2019.
“Some other mayor will have this problem to wrestle with down the road,” he said.
In the audience, Steve Sanders said he appreciated the mayor’s comments and he supports the new terminal.
“It’s horrendous behind the security gates,” Sanders said of the existing terminals. “We’ve got to fix this.”
But Annora Ogletree, a retired air traffic controller, said she likes the airport as it is, as do many people from out of town.
Kansas City has been debating improvements to Kansas City International Airport in earnest at least since 2011. The airlines spent from 2014 to 2016 studying the merits of a new terminal versus renovations and finally concluded in April 2016 that a new single terminal was more efficient and economical and could be as convenient for passengers. The airlines wanted a vote in August 2016, but polling showed less than than 40 percent of Kansas City voters were convinced of the need.
So James pressed “pause” on the vote and said the business community would have to lead the charge in educating the public about the project’s benefits. Earlier this year, Burns & McDonnell, a Kansas City engineering firm, proposed it could build and privately finance a new terminal. After a public outcry about a sole-source contract, the city agreed to open it up to competitive bidding.
That’s resulted in proposals from four different teams, including one led by Burns & McDonnell and one led by AECOM, the largest U.S. airport design firm. The city is currently reviewing those four proposals. On a parallel track, the City Council must adopt a ballot measure by Aug. 24 to meet the deadline for a Nov. 7 election.