Time to replace KCI, airlines say, and they will pay

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A rendering of a potential new ticketing hall shown to the city council.

The airlines at KCI want to build a new single terminal airport, will pay for it and need it to grow.

They conveyed that message to the city council Wednesday, and also said they would not support any kind of renovation for the three-terminal airport built in 1972.

After two years of study, their finding was the same as that a citizen task force made after previous one-year study.

The airlines said the new airport would cost about $964 million to build and are asking the council to put $1.25 billion (building plus interest) in airport revenue bonds to a public vote in August.

Steve Sisneros, director of airport affairs for Southwest Airlines, praised the city for working with airlines and said the approach is becoming a national model.

Asked whether that quick of vote on the controversial matter is advisable, he said, “We think the recommendation is sound and it’s collaborative and we’re ready to go.”

He also said, “Getting the airlines to agree on something is a pretty remarkable feat.”

But Councilwoman Alissia Canady asked how she was to persuade citizens that demolishing popular KCI was the thing to do.

How can she explain how it good for the council, citizens and the city and not just the airlines, she asked.

Mayor Sly James answered, “We need it to grow.”

He noted that airlines reported that KCI is regarded as so obsolete that some avoid making flights to it.

The airline consultants project a 40 percent increase in passenger traffic by 2030 and say KCI cannot properly handle what it has now.

Airlines say the new airport would result in increased passenger costs to them from $6.70 a passenger to $8.80, which is in the middle range for similar airports.

Councilwoman Teresa Loar, long an opponent, said she was weary of people speaking for a new airport. “I’m just tired of only hearing this side,” she said.

Councilman Dan Fowler suggested delaying a vote to give time for a voter education campaign.

Sisneros said delays would result in higher costs. Even if approved in August, it will take up to two years to design the airport and up to five years to build it.

Councilman Lee Barnes said he was concerned that the airlines would not support renovation as an option.

What if the new airport gets voted down?

Things will stay the same and the airlines will not be able to grow operations, airline officials said.

Barnes said he has heard of polls that say 60 percent of city voters oppose a new airport.

James said things have changed during the long public process.

“I’ve seen in three years almost everybody saying we don’t want change to yeah, we kind of do,” he said.

Councilman Jermaine Reed said, “You can’t build a world class city with a 1972 airport.”

He noted that building it would amount to 8,000 jobs and $2.1 billion in economic stimulus.

“This is a sensitive conversation,” Reed said, “but I think at the heart of this we as a council need to work hard to make sure we are building for the future of Kansas City.”

Councilwoman Jolie Justus, chair of the airport committee, said she will have ordinances for the project agreement and public vote prepared and will hold public hearings on them before a full council vote.

“We will make the case to both you and the people of Kansas City why this makes sense,” she said.

One Comment

  1. Diane Capps says:

    Americans are crazy! How wasteful to throw away a 40-year-old building into the landfill! I’d be the first to agree that KCI needs some updating but basically it is fine the way it is! It’s ugly inside and out–but who cares? It serves its citizens well! Go green!!! Preserve our built environment!

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