Like many Kansas Citians, Quinton Lucas hasn’t made up his mind.
Should we renovate the lovable but aging Kansas City International Airport? Or build a brand new terminal with all the modern bells and whistles?
Unlike most Kansas Citians, Lucas as a City Council member will play a key role in deciding what plan reaches voters this year or next.
On Facebook and Twitter, Lucas has discussed the pros and cons of the issue. Lucas, who’s on a special committee studying KCI’s future, told The Star after a recent trip to Dallas to meet with Southwest Airlines executives: “I’m reserving my final judgment.”
The Star supports the view of the airlines that serve KCI, large parts of the local business community and lots of the traveling public: Kansas City can build a new, single terminal that is — wait for it — still convenient for passengers. Yes, it can be done.
However, the current horseshoe design has loyal followers, who make various claims:
At $1 billion, a new terminal would be too expensive. City Hall didn’t give enough attention to a cheaper alternative plan. Taxpayers will be on the hook for the project, no matter what city officials claim. Ticket prices will soar. No one needs a shopping mall at the airport. The city has other priorities.
Each concern has some merit. Yet backers of the single terminal have offered compelling counter-arguments to all of them.
The most important one is that the airlines serving KCI say a new terminal would help them best serve a growing number of passengers for decades to come. So why waste hundreds of millions of dollars on a rehabbed airport the airlines don’t want?
On Tuesday, the council’s Airport Committee, led by Jolie Justus, is scheduled to hear more details on the single-terminal idea.
Here are several questions that deserve direct answers. If airline officials, their consultants and city leaders can’t provide them, people like Lucas and other council members will be less likely to move forward with the project.
▪ Who’s going to pay for it?
Walk through the details. Here’s how much ticket prices could go up. Here are the parking charges that would be required, keeping in mind that this is a huge source of revenue for KCI. Here are the estimated receipts from enhanced concessions, shops and restaurants — with proof that they are realistic.
▪ What will the new terminal look like?
People understandably want to have best guesses of how long it will take to get through security, how many steps it will take to get to their gates and what kinds of passenger amenities they can expect in much larger waiting areas.
No one is expecting final architectural drawings at this point, yet boosters have been saying for months that a new airport would be better for passengers. Here’s an excellent opportunity to prove it.
▪ What happens if Kansas City rejects the new terminal?
Southwest Airlines officials recently told council members who viewed Dallas Love Field improvements that KCI might lose flights without a major upgrade. Plus, the airlines don’t want to essentially waste money on keeping KCI as it is if it doesn’t serve their future needs.
Those are potentially chilling concerns. No one is saying Southwest or other airlines would abandon KCI. But sticking with the status quo design at KCI could harm the entire region’s economy.
Finally, as a sidelight, extremely good news arrived Friday: Aviation Director Mark VanLoh is finally out, retired and replaced by Pat Klein, a highly competent longtime city management official. VanLoh had little credibility to lead the charge for a new terminal, given his imperious assertions stretching back to 2011 that the project was inevitable.
Lots of Kansas Citians say they want to see more evidence that approving a huge bond package is truly required to make sensible, responsible upgrades at KCI.
Tuesday would be a great day to make that case to Lucas and all other Kansas Citians.