The Kansas City Council has taken an historic step toward building a new terminal at Kansas City International Airport.
By an eight-to-five vote, the council approved a memorandum of understanding with Edgemoor Infrastructure & Real Estate, the company that won the competition for the contract in 2017.
It was the right decision. While significant hurdles remain, the vote sets the community on a firm course to build a new $1 billion terminal at KCI with Edgemoor.
The vote came after intense debate and enormous political pressure. There were weeks of dark robocalls and Facebook posts. Claims and counter-claims. Accusations, whisper campaigns, secret backroom meetings.
All of this was deeply regrettable. As we’ve argued for months, politics should have never played a role in what should have been a transparent, merit-based decision to pick an airport developer.
Council members who supported the MOU deserve enormous credit for resisting much of that pressure. And while we were critical in December when the council killed the original airport MOU, we now agree that decision led to a more public process that made Thursday’s yes vote possible.
We’ve had serious disagreements with Mayor Sly James, including a long-running dispute last spring over the process the city was using. But today he deserves thanks for putting his initial support for Burns & McDonnell aside and strongly backing Edgemoor.
Had the mayor retreated from the process, or sulked when he didn’t get his way, the airport project would have died. He did no such thing.
Thursday, he explained why he pushed for Edgemoor. “Voters are watching us,” he said.
That is exactly right. In the coming days, pundits will debate the political winners and losers from the Edgemoor decision, but the most important victor is clear: The 76 percent of voters who approved a new terminal last year.
Councilman Scott Taylor argued Thursday that Edgemoor wasn’t on the November ballot, so switching developers would be OK. That offends reality.
The council established a process to pick a developer before the election precisely because it wanted voters to know what they were getting. Edgemoor was on the ballot in every way except by name.
Thursday’s council decision kept faith with those voters.
There are still roadblocks along the way. Edgemoor must figure out how to borrow for the project, including finding a local public entity to issue the debt. The city must reach a deal with airlines.
Prices, designs and union agreements all lie ahead. Construction may hit a speed bump. Thursday’s vote was the end of the beginning.
But voters who have placed so much trust in City Hall can be gratified that their elected leaders trusted them.
Not everyone may have gotten the message. In her speech Thursday, City Councilwoman Teresa Loar heatedly denounced pressure tactics over the past weeks.
“Do not judge us,” Loar said. “Back off a little.”
Sorry, councilwoman. Judging elected officials is the very essence of popular democracy. No one who cares about his or her community should ever “back off” from informing politicians of their views.
Thursday, eight of Loar’s colleagues heard voters’ voices. The winner Thursday? Every Kansas Citian who cares about Kansas City.