Does the city need a new, billion-dollar Kansas City International? 

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"How many of these problems can be fixed with a long-term fix without spending $1.2 billion on an airport," asks Kevin Koster, a marketing executive in the Northland who started savekci.com, sort of an online meeting place for opponents of the new KCI terminal.

Airport officials acknowledge that engineers have not estimated costs for repairing some of KCI's nagging issues, like the cracks in the walls and the flooding underground. ("Is it dangerous? No," VanLoh says. "Houses settle, so they will leak.")

New-terminal boosters are also counting on federal money to help defray project costs. But waiting on the feds these days is a fool's errand.

"You can't put together a financing plan that's dependent on the federal government," Kansas City Manager Troy Schulte tells The Pitch.

The Airport Improvement Program, a pot of grant money, was initially thought to have emerged unscathed from federal sequestration. But earlier this year, the federal government decided to raid the AIP for $250 million in order to fund air-traffic controllers at smaller airports who were at risk of missing a paycheck.

That move annoyed airport officials around the country. They were mindful of the possibility that Congress, like a black-sheep uncle with a hip flask, would get a taste of that new pool of money and keep drawing on AIP for other purposes.

"Our trade organizations have been working in Washington and saying, 'If you start to do this, it's not fine, but give airports an increase in passenger facility charges,' " VanLoh says.

And grants from the AIP tend not to be that large.

During fiscal year 2012, the largest such grant was a $70 million payout to Chicago O'Hare International Airport to fund runway work. Nearly all other AIP grants were a few million here, a few hundred thousand there — nothing that would go far in defraying the cost of a $1.2 billion project.

KCI during that fiscal year got nearly $3 million in entitlement grants. In any given year, KCI gets between $5 million and $15 million in discretionary funding from the federal government.

That puts pressure on airport officials to find new ways to make money while fending off substantial increases in costs to airlines. Right now, KCI's biggest moneymaker is parking. At $43 million a year, that haul represents about 43 percent of the revenue side of the airport's ledger.

Schulte wants to balance that equation with more revenue from other sources, such as concessions.

A new single-terminal airport could put more food and beverage options beyond security checkpoints, countering the existing KCI layout, which offers scant options for beer and chicken wings. They're nearly all outside the Transportation Security Administration curtain, another vestige of a pre-9/11 airport design.

KCI stoops below national averages for concession sales, fetching $3.90 per passenger. The national average for similarly sized airports was $5 in 2012, according to a report by Airports Council International.

It's the same song for retail sales: KCI picks $1.20 off each passenger, compared with the $3.06 national average.

Combined, KCI makes just 66 cents in net sales after operators absorb their costs and profits — the lowest in the country, according to VanLoh.

VanLoh says a practical haul on concessions and retail, which he believes is attainable with a new terminal, is $2 of net revenue per passenger.

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