Kansas City Council members and some civic leaders said Thursday that it’s full speed ahead for an airport election in November, even though some enthusiasm has evaporated because an outside firm was recommended over Kansas City-based Burns & McDonnell to develop the $1 billion project.
“Right now, from everyone I’ve talked to, no one has any desire to put off the election,” said City Councilwoman Jolie Justus, who was on the selection committee that recommended Maryland-based Edgemoor over Burns & McDonnell and two other groups on Wednesday.
Other council members said Thursday they still have a lot of unanswered questions that must be resolved before they can endorse the Edgemoor team as the new terminal developer. But they said November is still the right time for an election to determine whether the Kansas City public supports a new single terminal, regardless of who builds it.
“We need to go,” agreed Alicia Stephens, executive director of the Platte County Economic Development Corp., which has done three dozen community meetings in recent months to talk about the airport.
Stephens said the airlines have made clear that they don’t want any more election delays, and her outreach shows public support for a new airport terminal is growing.
But recent polling shows there’s still a sizable number of Kansas City voters who oppose the new terminal, as well as many undecided voters.
Several business and civic leaders voiced deep disappointment Thursday that Burns & McDonnell, the “hometown team,” was not recommended for the project.
They said the airport vote was already going to be a heavy lift with a skeptical public, and bypassing Burns & McDonnell could make the campaign even more challenging.
“The lack of transparency surrounding Edgemoor’s proposal, especially with respect to minority participation … and design components gives me cause for pause and leads me to think that less than 60 days may not be enough time to convince the electorate to vote yes in November,” said Gwen Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City.
Veteran campaign consultant Steve Glorioso, who is not working on the airport issue, predicted it will be a challenge for airport proponents to prevail. Glorioso emphasized that he hopes the new terminal vote passes, but said it could be tough.
“There is a risk in trying to put together a citywide campaign in less than 60 days, given the fact that the whole matter of who is going to be the builder is still undecided,” Glorioso said.
He said if he were in charge, he would recommend putting an election off until April. “You want the best shot you can, because if they lose, it will have to wait for the next mayor to tackle.”
Political consultant Mark Nevins, the main consultant for the airport campaign, was adamant Thursday that the campaign can be successful despite the short timeline.
“We started putting the pieces in place weeks ago, and my hope is to have people knocking on doors in the next five days,” he said.
Nevins said the campaign has raised about $150,000, including large contributions from Sprint, KCP&L and the carpenters’ union. But others have noted that a successful campaign is likely to cost at least $1 million.
Nevins said the campaign will emphasize that the project is paid for with airport revenues, requires no general taxpayer dollars, and should generate a significant number of jobs and economic development for the region.
Some council members and others said Thursday they need to know a lot more about Edgemoor before they can be fully supportive of the new terminal project.
Edgemoor plans to hold a news conference Friday morning to reveal more information about its plan.
Geoffrey Stricker, managing director of Edgemoor, said Thursday the team is ready to assist with any airport campaign, both financially and with community outreach.
Many people still wonder why Kansas City even has to have an election, since the airport project does not require general taxpayer dollars. Any airport improvements are paid for by airport users, not local taxpayers.
The election is necessary because in 2013, a group of Kansas City residents petitioned, as they have the right to under the Kansas City charter, to have a vote on any major airport improvements. The City Council at that time accepted the petition, because council members thought the project would require an election anyway. Missouri law is unusual in that it requires an election on public airport revenue bonds, and since that’s traditionally been the way the city funds airport improvements, they thought an airport vote would be needed.
Now, it’s apparent that private financing is possible, without requiring airport bonds or a public vote. But the City Council promised the petitioners they would have a vote, so it is fulfilling that promise.
Dan Coffey, one of the petitioners in 2013, has been an outspoken critic of a new single terminal. He said Thursday he still thinks the public is opposed, but that the vote should happen in November.
He said he was not aware of an organized opposition campaign, although his group, Citizens for Responsible Government, is trying to raise money for such a campaign.