Kansas City’s 2015 agenda may well include new visions for KCI and Kemper Arena

Holiday travelers lined up at KCI’s Terminal B on Tuesday.
Holiday travelers lined up at KCI’s Terminal B on Tuesday. The Kansas City Star

One of the largest issues on Kansas City’s longterm agenda is what to do with Kansas City International Airport.

Similarly, the fate of Kemper Arena, a public facility of the same vintage as KCI, has emerged as a prominent point of debate for a new generation of citizens as well as their elders.

Both issues received significant public airings at City Hall in 2014, and both are likely to arrive at major turning points if not final resolutions in the coming year. These are the kind of welcome and necessary civic discussions that can define both the city’s shape and its character for many years.

Area residents — and especially Kansas City taxpayers — should be grateful that strong public reaction to plans bubbling below the surface caused city officials to bring much of the debate over the aging airport and the underused arena into open-air forums. But much more critical work remains to be done.

Kansas City International Airport: A citizen’s task force tackled this city priority, investigating whether a single new terminal or renovation of existing terminals represented the best solution for modernization. The panel reviewed design concepts, budget questions and a slew of data on airport use, airline trends, security and other matters.

The task force concluded the one-terminal plan would be the most flexible and reasonable option, though it conceded its recommendation came in the absence of crucial and accurate figures on costs and financing.

At the moment, the issue is in a kind of closed-door dark period. Aviation department officials and an outside consultant for the city are deep in negotiations with the airlines to determine what the airport might really need and how the project will be financed.

No one will argue for doing nothing, City Manager Troy Schulte told The Star this week. He said a final proposal will probably emerge by late summer. It eventually will go to city voters.

We would favor an airport solution that makes the most sense for our region and our city. A reasonably priced project that embraces smart design, convenience and efficiency and meets the challenging modern needs of travel today is an ideal worth studying in depth.

Kemper Arena: More than three years ago, officials of the American Royal Association presented a plan to modernize its operation and called for the city to raze the 40-year-old Kemper Arena and replace it with a smaller, more flexible facility. The Royal asked for an investment from the city of $50 million or more.

By the time 2014 came around, a new proposal was on the table to retrofit Kemper as a center for recreation and youth sports.

Both proposals took a breather this fall as city officials moved ahead with their intention to seek new ideas.

The city planning staff currently is hashing out a request for proposals, which will invite potential developers to consider adapting Kemper Arena to a new use while also envisioning a master plan for a large stretch of the West Bottoms — between the arena and Interstate 670, from State Line Road to the railroad tracks on the east.

A holistic look at the district would be vital, Mayor Sly James said this week.

Schulte suggested that a big incentive in the document might include redevelopment rights for a large city-owned parking lot.

Expect that request to hit the streets by the end of January, and perhaps by June the city will have a series of good proposals to weigh.

This is the first of a five-part series on major issues facing the region that will ignore the end of the calendar year and demand attention again in 2015.