KCI study group churns forward in turbulent airspace

A rendering of the new single airport terminal being discussed for KCI.

By Joe Lambe

After a recent KCI tour and months of study, a citizens’ commission studying what to do with the airport tried to shift the debate today.

They and others should stop referring to it as a choice between the current 40-year-old, three-terminal airport and a new $1.2 billion single-terminal airport, they said.

The current airport needs much work, the $1.2 billion estimate for a new airport is probably high and whatever is done may involve more than one terminal, said David Fowler, co-chair of the mayor’s commission.

“We need to get off the $1.2 billion price tag as well as all or nothing,” he said. “The question is not zero to $1.2 billion, it is some (unknown number).”

Commissioners noted that their job is to find an “optimal configuration” for the airport, and that could be different from the controversial single terminal plan under study by the city.

Their recent tour left them repeatedly rating KCI high on convenience but also concerned about the constant struggle to adapt and maintain it.

Bob Berkebile, a co-chair who worked on the original KCI design, said city staff did an excellent job of adapting and keeping it among the most convenient airports in the country.

But with larger aircraft, increased security demands, repairs and other needs, he said, “they’re at a point of diminishing returns on these investments.”

It was also a revelation to him that they will have to shut down operations to make many repairs, he said.

“All of these issues don’t lead to a new single terminal,” Berkebile said. “There are a lot of questions yet to be answered.”

Commissioner Joe Reardon wondered if the matter was like that of Kemper Arena and the Sprint Center. The city spent millions upgrading Kemper before investing in the Sprint Center.

“It got to the point where something had to be done with Kemper arena, we did it but we decided we wanted to be something different when we grew up,” he said.

Things change, he said of the issue. “It’s the Lady Gaga of the future related to airports.”

Commissioner Dan Cranshaw noted the city spent millions about a decade ago upgrading terminal top levels, but there is crumbling underground.

He also is concerned the commission has not yet heard testimony from the airlines, he said. “What exactly are they looking for, what do they think they need?”

Fowler said there is still much to study and the city is in the process of hiring a consulting firm to give them input separate from city aviation experts.

“This consultant will study what has already been done and give us input but will not recreate the wheel,” he said.

Many people have contacted commissioners with suggestions and the city will soon set up a social media site for interactive communication, Fowler said.

It will take time to hire a consultant and the commissioners will probably not start deliberating until next year, he said.

At next meeting, he said, they will hear how the $1.2 billion, single terminal plan took shape and why.

“We’re going to take a little bit deeper dive into the plan that was advanced,” he said.

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