Two major decisions face Mayor Sly James and the City Council as they weigh the future of Kansas City International Airport.
▪ Should they let voters make the call on whether to build a new, single terminal?
▪ If so, when would that election occur — this August or November?
The answer to the first question is a resounding “yes” based on the extremely promising vision for KCI’s future as laid out Tuesday by airline leaders and city aviation officials.
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It’s high time to turn the lovable but antiquated facility that now serves as the gateway to Kansas City for so many travelers into a sleek, modern amenity that’s convenient and affordable.
The presentation to the council drove home the right key points.
The airlines — the essential tenants at KCI — want the new terminal. They won’t support mere renovations to the current horseshoe design, as backed by some on the council and in the community. And the airlines are convinced that a single terminal would still offer passengers short, convenient walks to airports — the single-trick pony that KCI now provides.
An enthusiastic James several times pressed the fact that taxpayers will not be on the hook for the nearly $1 billion project. The revenues to pay for it would come from people using KCI, mainly from charges for airline tickets, parking and concessions.
The project could create 18,000 temporary jobs, a huge boon for the area. That makes U.S. Rep. Sam Graves’ inaccurate attacks on the terminal idea impossible to grasp, given the fact he represents that part of Platte County.
The bottom line: The new, single terminal when completed by 2022 would enhance Kansas City’s image as a thriving municipality.
Now, James and other supporters — including Airport Committee Chairwoman Jolie Justus — must get a council majority of seven votes in favor of the project to move forward.
As for the election date, well, that’s a lot less clear at this moment.
Go in August, and backers of the new terminal risk looking as if they are trying to shove the project down the public’s throat. Indeed, the council would have to act by May 19 for that election to occur.
It also could take time to rev up a positive campaign, especially because the business community — which generally favors the single terminal — just spent $1 million on an election to renew the Kansas City earnings tax.
But wait until November, and the issue could get lost in dozens of other important elections.
That also could give opponents time to place a competing plan on the ballot, even if it’s not acceptable to the airlines.
August could work. Kansas Citians have been talking and reading about the single terminal concept for a few years. An educational campaign touting its real benefits could succeed.
Supporters must take the next week or so to look at new polling data and check in with potential campaign funders (including those in Johnson County, which also would benefit from a modern KCI) before locking in an election date.
No matter what month is chosen, keep this fact in mind.
The long-held belief that Kansas Citians will always embrace the current design and reject anything new could be absolutely wrong. The more that people hear about the benefits of a single terminal, the more they seem to like it.
The tide could be turning in favor of a new KCI. The clock is ticking on when voters will get to decide its fate.