About a year ago, Mayor Sly James challenged the Kansas City business community to step up and find a way to modernize Kansas City’s airport for the 21st century.
We considered the mayor’s challenge a call to action. The only thing Burns & McDonnell loves more than a challenge is Kansas City — and airports are a big part of our business.
In fact, we may know KCI better than anyone. We designed it. It was an innovative feat when it opened in 1972, a year when you could smoke on airplanes and walk on the tarmac without going through security. It was a different era — the right airport for the right time.
Now it’s time to develop a one-terminal airport of the 21st century, one that captures the entrepreneurial spirit of a Kansas City that has the nation’s attention like never before.
Meeting that kind of challenge is part of our DNA. We don’t just manage projects — we design and build them. We help cities all over the world succeed by achieving amazing things that seem impossible. We have called Kansas City home for 119 years, so the idea of doing something amazing in our hometown presented an opportunity to give back to the city that supports us in more ways than we can possibly count.
Not long after the mayor issued his challenge, we brought our team together to take this on. No idea was off the table. Our goal was to find a way to build an innovative, modern, one-terminal airport keeping all the conveniences of today’s KCI. We wanted a solution eliminating the need for the city to issue new bonds. It would not put the burden on taxpayers, and the airlines would support it.
Most importantly, we wanted a project that exuded Kansas City pride. For us, that was a commitment to make sure the new KCI would be designed and built by the world-class talent in Kansas City. It would be a true reflection of the Kansas City Spirit, just as Norman Rockwell depicted in his famous painting after the 1951 flood.
We invested thousands of hours in developing a foundational plan. When we were confident it would work, we took this innovative idea to the city. We collaboratively hammered out details to ensure a solid plan could be evaluated in detail by the City Council and community.
We’ve presented something that is truly unique: a Kansas City team with a Kansas City solution to a Kansas City challenge.
▪ Modern and convenient. The airport would not lose the conveniences local travelers, including me, love. It would add conveniences we currently lack. It would have a 6,500-space parking garage outside the terminal’s front door. It would feature more restrooms, seating, charging stations and places to enjoy a meal before you board a plane. It would be more secure and accessible to all Kansas Citians.
▪ City-owned and -operated. Under our plan, the city would retain ownership of the terminal. Also, the lease agreements would give incentives to the airlines to increase the number of flights in and out of KCI. If the airlines can beat projections, there’s an opportunity for the city’s aviation department and the airlines to benefit from the additional revenues, not us.
▪ No new city debt. This one-terminal plan would be privately financed, which means the city would incur no additional debt and would be under no obligation to provide financial backing. No property taxes would be needed to pay for this, nor city or aviation bonds needed.
▪ Jobs, jobs and more jobs. We would use Kansas City’s local contractor community. This airport project would be a job-creating machine with a commitment to develop and support local, minority-owned, women-owned and disadvantaged businesses. It’s estimated this new one-terminal project would generate 18,000 jobs and more than $2 billion in direct and indirect economic activity.
As the conversation around a new KCI is moving from “why” to “how,” we believe our hometown proposal is the right plan for the right time. It’s time to create new jobs for the people of Kansas City. It’s time for Kansas City to lead not follow. It’s time for KC pride.
Ray Kowalik is the chairman and CEO of Burns & McDonnell.