Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Mayor Sly James' airport task force opts for single terminal

Posted By on Wed, May 7, 2014 at 12:55 PM

click to enlarge Kansas Citians may wait a year or two before voting on a airport project that would overhaul this scene in front of KCI.
  • Kansas Citians may wait a year or two before voting on a airport project that would overhaul this scene in front of KCI.
The majority of a 24-member advisory group said on Wednesday that the most expensive of three options - a single-terminal overhaul - is the best path forward for a revamped Kansas City International Airport.

How expensive? No one will say.

The KCI Terminal Advisory Group, commissioned by Mayor Sly James last year to study the 40-year-old airport's future, revealed its choice in the ground-floor rotunda of City Hall shortly after the group's last meeting.

The single-terminal idea beat out two other options - a relatively minimalist fix-up of infrastructure and a more involved renovation of the existing three terminals with a central building connecting the three.

KTAG and city officials disavowed any cost estimates, saying it's too early and no specific design for a single terminal has emerged. The $1.2 billion to $1.5 billion figure that had been pegged to the single-terminal idea last year seems like it's out the window now. It could be higher or it could be lower.

Kansas Citians won't be taxed directly to pay for any forthcoming project, but costs associated with parking, ticket prices and concessions will likely increase with a new terminal design.

True, it's early in the process of moving toward a new airport. City officials and airlines and others will now craft a more specific proposal for a new terminal. And then, in 18 months or maybe later, the public would take a vote on whether to issue bonds to finance a new airport, whatever that cost may be.

The KTAG announcement doesn't signal the finality or end of anything, except for a year's worth of Tuesday morning meetings that occupied the time of 24 volunteers who heard various testimony about the pros and cons of changing KCI. The information was, at times, confusing and contradictory.

Kansas City convention officials said KCI was the target of derision from conventioneers, but could not identify an instance in which the airport cost the city some convention business. 

Kansas City aviation director Mark VanLoh had suggested that airlines were on board with the city's move toward a new airport, and then airline personnel from Southwest Airlines later expressed some reservations about the plan.

Literature distributed by the city indicated security was a concern at KCI currently, but then an official at the Transportation Security Administration testified that the current layout didn't pose much of a security threat and that a single terminal design would not amount to a significant security improvement.

Even Wednesday, James said that money from the city's aviation department stays there, even though the city in 2010 borrowed $10.2 million in aviation dollars to pay for unfunded tax increment financing liabilities. The loan is getting repaid, with interest, to the airport. City Hall also considered at one point using aviation funds to get The Citadel shopping project at 63rd Street and Prospect off the ground, but those plans crumbled like the rest of Citadel.

Of the 24 members of KTAG, six said they felt a year's worth of testimony and deliberation didn't achieve enough information. Nevertheless, a strong majority cast their favor toward a single terminal.

"Southwest Airlines, as the representative of all the airlines serving MCI, acknowledges the hard work of the advisory committee," said Ron Ricks, a Southwest Airlines executive, in a statement. "We pledge to work in good faith with Mayor James, the City Council, and the city aviation staff on a solution that best meets the needs of the passengers and the airlines."

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