by Valerie Verkamp
On Friday, May 12, Kansas City Mayor Sly James presented a possible solution for financing and developing a new single-terminal airport, combating public concerns against a tax hike and debt.
In announcing a privatized plan for a new airport while standing at a podium in Terminal A, James on Friday morning said like most Kansas Citians he too has a soft spot for the current Kansas City International Airport.
“I can remember about 10 years ago waiting at the airport for my son, who just finished his service in the Marine Corp in Iraq, to come home,” said James. “It was an emotional and proud moment for me and my family. I really won't forget what it was like to see him walk out of the doors and into the waiting area at the airport. It was pretty powerful.”
The current 45-year-old structure, he said, is woven into the fabric of the city, ushering Kansas Citians to faraway places.
Looking to the horizon, James said now Kansas City needs an airport that allows the outside world to come see Kansas City.
In spite of more than a decade of deferred development, James is hopeful Kansas Citians will support a new single-terminal facility, because this proposal does not burden taxpayers with a dime.
“When we pressed pause on this conversation last spring, I asked the business community to develop a viable plan for moving forward that ensures our residents will maintain the convenience that is so important to travelers, as well guaranteeing that the city's financial coffers are not at risk with the construction of a new single terminal. The proposal outlined today is just that,” said James.
The city is now proposing to construct a new single terminal that will be privately financed by Burns & McDonnell, a Kansas City-based worldwide major construction contractor with nearly 3,000 employees.
“KCI is a civic asset, and the front door to our city for visitors, tourists, and businesses around the world. Our current airport has outgrown the demands of a modern economy and a world-class city. This is the kind of innovative thinking that Kansas City should be proud of,” he added.
City officials say the new single-terminal will be supported by private financing, paid for by airport usage fees.
“This proposal takes zero money from the city,” said James. “It has no tax increase for any Kansas Citian and it adds not a penny of debt to the city's debt level or budget.”
Instead, Burns & McDonnell will assume sole financial responsibility and serve as the general contractor to build it.
Under the proposal, Burns & McDonnell would line up private financing from lenders and from its own pockets. Those amounts would be paid back through airport revenues, such as airline tickets, parking fees, concessions and other airport-generated money. The city would continue to own and operate the airport.
“At its core, the proposal means we as a city will get the benefit of their expertise, their dedication and most importantly their money to privately finance a new single terminal,” said James.
A memorandum of understanding outlining the details of the $1 billion proposal will go before the city council on Thursday for consideration.
Despite heated debates and thorny challenges, James said he has not deviated from his resolve to allow the people to decide the future of KCI.
In conjunction with the memorandum, city officials say they will review proposed ballot language so when the measure appears before Kansas City voters this November it will clearly convey the city's plan.
“I believe we have a compelling case to make to the voters and I appreciate the willingness of the voters to think big and to say yes to the future when given an opportunity,” said James.
James urged Kansas Citians to propel the airport into the 21st Century.
“We won't have this opportunity in the near future again, if we don't take advantage of it now. I think the proposal put forward today and the debate that we are going to have in the future, over the coming weeks, over the coming months, will be a part of this city's fabric for years to come. It will set a stage for a new generation of memories and moments like those that we have shared the last 40 years,” he said.
The Kansas City Council's Airport Committee will host two public meetings the week of May 22. Citizens are invited to share their comments there or online at KCMOmentum.
City officials say the city of Kansas City's Aviation Department will remain the owner and operator of the new airport.
James said the conveniences that Kansas Citians appreciate will be of paramount importance in all aspects of the planning, design and building of the new single terminal airport. From curbside dropoff and pickup to close proximately from parking to gates, the proposed 750,000-foot airport terminal will retain these conveniences, said James.
Additionally, the final design will offer moving sidewalks, 30-gates and a multi-level public parking structure with 6,500 parking spaces.
Once construction is underway, experts say the new facility would be completed within four years.
Troy Schulte, city manager, said KCI typically experiences about a 1.9 percent growth in the number of passengers. Last year, the airport saw a six percent growth in passengers and employment, indicating time is of the essence.
Ray Kowalik, CEO of Burns and McDonnell, said the future design of the airport is very personal to his own company.
“Our employees fly over 33,000 times in a year out of this airport,” said Kowalik. “That's over 90 flights a day from our employees, because we are out building things in other parts of this great nation of ours.”
Kowalik said the proposed 21st century design will feature a two-level curbside dropoff and pickup with many lanes, including lanes dedicated to buses, courtesy shuttle services and ride-sharing service providers. The new single-terminal airport will be built where Terminal A currently stands.
“We need a new modern KCI, not just for us, but for the rest of the business community and for our citizens so they can travel places and people can come here and have great experience. I am excited to have this proposal on the table. I hope we can garner enough support,” said Kowalik.
Duke Dujakovish, president of the Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO, said construction of a new innovative single-terminal airport will spur job growth, especially for organized labor workers.
“The sons, daughters and grandchildren of the people who built this airport stand ready to build a new single-terminal for Kansas City,” said Dujakovich.
He pointed out the project will support future training programs, healthcare and pension funds for labor workers.
Representing the Platte County EDC and Northland Chamber of Commerce, Darren Hennen, said KCI currently serves as a job center in our area, but upon the completion of an innovative terminal it will become an “economic engine” in our region.
“KCI is a permanent and physical part of our landscape,” said Hennen. “The images and sounds of the daily takeoffs and landings are part of our daily routine and provide a certain rhythm to our day, so we embrace this day as we begin the discernment process to understand the best method to advance a new single-terminal.”
Ronnie Burt, president of Visit KC, said Kansas City is basking in the national spotlight and poised for many more great things but the city must keep the momentum going.
“Every dollar we spend there is a $93 return, which says people are noticing us now more than ever before, said Burt. “But we can't stop, won't stop, we are Kansas City.”