Less than a month before the proposal for a new single-terminal Kansas City International Airport goes to voters, the developer selected by the city to lead the project has yet to contribute to the campaign for passage of the ballot question.
City officials said it was expected that Edgemoor Infrastructure & Real Estate, the Maryland-based firm approved by the City Council on Sept. 21 after a contentious selection process, would make a substantial campaign donation. Without voter approval on Nov. 7, the project will likely be scuttled indefinitely.
Edgemoor says it won’t contribute until it is confident that it can successfully negotiate a detailed construction agreement with the city, called a memorandum of understanding (MOU). Negotiations are continuing.
“We understand the importance of participating in the campaign. We are working through the MOU,” Edgemoor managing director Geoffrey Stricker told the board of the South Kansas City Alliance, a coalition of neighborhood and community groups, Monday evening. “Part of our timing of any contribution relates to getting an MOU successfully executed.”
The pro-KCI campaign committee, KC Transportation Transit and Tourism, has raised $735,000 according to the latest state filings. The total includes sizable contributions from the city’s corporate, labor and legal communities, including Cerner ($100,000), Western Missouri & Kansas Laborers District Council ($50,000) and the law firm Husch Blackwell ($25,000), which served as outside counsel to the airport selection committee. The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce is “planning a significant donation to the campaign,” chamber spokesperson Pam Whiting said Tuesday.
Kansas City’s Burns & McDonnell, widely anticipated to be the successful bidder, was expected to make a substantial contribution. That is now unlikely. A company spokesman said the firm has already spent heavily on television ads as part of an aggressive bid to win the job.
The campaign is continuing to press hard for more money, working against a calendar some political professionals have said leaves insufficient time to get the pro-terminal message across to voters. Mayor Sly James said in a recent interview that he considered $1.5 million to $2 million a “threshold” necessary for an effective campaign. He told a Northland audience at a city budget workshop Saturday that the campaign remained short of the funds needed to air television ads.
“We need another $300,000 to get on TV. I’m raising it or trying to raise it along with others,” James said. “I must have made 30 or 40 (fund raising) calls yesterday.” On Monday, James conceded that he’d “exaggerated” the number of calls, placing it at about 20.
“We’re doing fine but it’s a slow process. We’re bringing in more every day and I think we’ll hit our marks,” he said.
After meeting with the South Kansas City Alliance Board, Stricker said the company did not require a completed MOU before contributing. But he said the firm needed to come to terms with the city on several key areas, including community benefits.
“We’re comfortable that if the key elements that both the city wants and we think are appropriate to the MOU then we would be in a position to make a contribution,” he said.
The Sept. 21 ordinance passed by the council stipulated that Edgemoor meet a series of obligations aimed at making the $1 billion project “transformational” for minority communities. They include participation by minority and women-owned businesses; minorities in the construction workforce; loans or grant programs for small or disadvantaged businesses, and 15 years worth of payments to the Love Thy Neighbor Fund, which provides low-income senior citizens with money to fix their homes. The specific numbers remain under negotiation.
James said he understood Edgemoor’s hesitation.
“I know they are in a situation where they would like to know where they are heading with the MOU before they make that commitment. There is certainly some concern about making a contribution before they have something to sign. It might look a little weird.”
But some council members expressed concern about the company’s stance.
“There was certainly the expectation that whoever was selected would participate,” said Mayor Pro-Tem Scott Wagner. “I don’t begrudge anybody protecting their business. My hope is there is a happy medium.”
Councilman Lee Barnes, who voted against approval of Edgemoor, said it was assumed that “part of their investment would be in the campaign, and probably at a more substantial level than other entities in the city.”
Barnes, who sat in on the deliberations of the selection committee that recommended Edgemoor to the council, declined to discuss exactly what the council is expecting. He said: “All they have to do is agree to do what we asked them to do. There have been some numbers given to them. They know the specifics.”
“The real question is, do you want this project to succeed or not?” said Councilman Quinton Lucas, noting that without a win next month, the MOU won’t matter. “I respectfully disagree with their approach. I don’t quite follow the logic of sitting out this part of the process.”