The campaign for a new airport terminal is picking up speed.
A coalition of Kansas City business groups said Monday it will soon launch an educational blitz to convince workers and voters of the need for a new terminal at Kansas City International Airport.
The effort is called “A Better KCI.” Sponsors include members of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, the Civic Council, the Kansas City Area Development Council, the Northland Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Platte County Economic Development Council.
Member companies will talk about the airport with their employees in meetings, group discussions and newsletters.
They’ll make several points. Kansas City needs a new single terminal, they’ll say, to improve convenience and amenities at the facility, provide more flights, fix security problems and help bring jobs to the area.
In general, we agree with these arguments. The status quo at the airport is not sustainable: Kansas City must either build a new terminal structure or dramatically overhaul the existing terminals within the next five to 10 years.
To do less is to risk a continuing decline of convenient flights and a slide into second-class status. Already Kansas City’s airport is compared, often unfavorably, with facilities in Omaha and Wichita, not Denver and St. Louis.
That’s why we’ve said voters should decide the airport issue in November. The city has been arguing about the airport for five years — a final decision, up or down, should be made in 2017.
It’s encouraging to see the business community join the discussion. Mayor Sly James has challenged business leaders to be more vocal in supporting a new terminal, and the Better KCI effort appears aimed at that goal.
With that, a few words of caution.
Business leaders have every right to discuss the airport issue with their employees. They don’t have a right to tell Kansas City employees how to vote. The business effort must remain educational.
At some point, the coalition may become directly involved in campaign advocacy for the airport. That’s when members can raise money, form a political action committee, buy ads and do other things to convince voters that theirs is the right vision for the airport.
But first, voters — and this newspaper — will want more details before committing to a new terminal.
How much would it cost? How would it be financed? How convenient would it be? How safe would it be? What would a new terminal mean for the tens of thousands of Kansas Citians who never fly?
We should insist on answers to these questions and others before a November vote. Kansas Citians will properly ask for an iron-clad guarantee that taxpayers won’t be on the hook for the project.
They’ll want to know the role of minority and women businesses in building the airport. They’ll want to know if the federal government could pay some of the cost. And they’ll need to know how much more flights would cost and be confident that every reasonable effort would be taken to keep construction costs low.
Kansas Citians are approaching a 50-year decision on their airport. All voters should keep an open mind in the weeks and months ahead — to study the issues, understand the necessary trade-offs in cost and convenience and make an educated choice about the terminal.
We’ll continue to push for essential details and answers to voters’ questions. Kansas City needs to get this one right.