Supporters of the status quo at Kansas City International Airport are running out of excuses. The reasons are growing to build a new terminal and abandon any ideas of a costly renovation of KCI.
Doing either would cost in the ballpark of $1 billion. Airlines and airport users would pay those expenses, not taxpayers.
But only a new terminal would get the airlines — and the public — what they deserve as air travel evolves and the local market expands in the next two to three decades. That’s a key point to remember as the council moves toward a final decision to present to voters. Presumably that will come in 2017, when Kansas Citians would be asked to approve bonds to construct a better KCI.
Eventually, Mayor Sly James and a majority of council members must be on the same page for this project. It’s extremely important to the economic future of this city and region. If James and the council are going to provide needed leadership to rebuild KCI, supporters of the new terminal concept must present compelling reasons to do so.
Evidence of how to do just that emerged Tuesday. A consultant representing the airlines that use KCI convincingly knocked down a plan recently presented by a team led by Crawford Architects to expand the current horseshoe-shaped terminals.
As AvAirPros executive Lou Salomon noted, the airlines rejected the idea that the Crawford renovation would solve enough of their concerns about how to better serve passengers. He also said the Crawford cost estimate was wildly low; the real expense for its contemplated “fixes” would also approach $1 billion.
A council committee hearing Tuesday also spent the better part of an hour going over the detailed process the airlines and consultants used to review renovation costs as opposed to building something new. Originally, Salomon said, the airlines thought renovation would be cheaper. But when the first cost estimates topped $1.2 billion, they went back to the drawing board.
As city officials heard late last year, even after more pencil pushing, renovations would cost just more than $1 billion while a new single terminal could be $964 million. Perhaps even more important, the airlines said a new terminal would provide them and their passengers with lower operating costs, better infrastructure, larger waiting areas and more concession spaces, all while still offering much of the convenience that many passengers love about KCI.
Still, as council questions continue to show, the airlines must provide more evidence to put the new terminal over the goal line.
Jolie Justus, Quinton Lucas and Dan Fowler all essentially expressed the same thoughts Tuesday, wondering how they would convince voters to accept a single terminal.
In the next few months, the airlines must return to City Hall with detailed information about a prospective new terminal. How long would it take to walk to the gates? How much time would it take to get through security? Where would parking be? How easy would it be to drop off passengers? How would users benefit from larger waiting rooms and more concessions?
That meeting could be the clincher for convincing James and a council majority to support a new terminal. That means the future of KCI would be at stake.