Forging a Consensus on KCI

By Joe Sweeney

The business community must step up with a compelling argument­—now.

Ingram’s was honored to collaborate with the Kauffman Foundation, JE Dunn Construction and Husch Blackwell on the 2016 Greater Kansas City Economic Development Assembly earlier this month, where some of the best minds in business, development law and ED policy looked into the current state of this region’s economic health and found much to celebrate. It was not, however, 2½ hours of kumbya.

One prominent reason for that was the inordinately detailed discussion over the fate of Kansas City International Airport. Earlier this month, Mayor Sly James announced that, for the time being, formal discussion of proposals to address infrastructure improvements at KCI was off the agenda at City Hall.

Given the makeup of the assembly, it wasn’t surprising that the sentiment ap-peared unanimous that this city—and this region—needs to press forward with the much-studied, much-debated, much-cussed plan to replace the three-terminal structure at KCI with something better-suited to today’s security environment. Companies here, especially those doing national and international business, are having a hard time justifying this region to outside talent. But it’s not all image: The number of daily flights from KCI has diminished and our shared access to other connections is being whittled away as we’ve fallen to 75 daily flights—it was 125 flights a day just a business cycle ago. That’s why Terminal A has been shuttered.

The issue was: What do we do now?

A few participants cited the challenges of getting the public’s mind right on what’s needed at the airport. The problem, as they saw it, was that after three years or so of floating various proposals, of task force studies, of City Council committee sessions and of citizen petitions and threats of legal action, we’re no closer to forging consensus on KCI than we were when the process started.

For some, the reasons are largely a mystery. In a couple of cases, they were written off as the product of a community with an abundance of nay-sayers.

I think that’s partly right. But there’s another reason I believe the airport in its current format is so firmly fixed in the hearts and minds of some city’s residents. And, no, I don’t think it’s merely the convenience factor that many believe is the main argument against spending nearly $1 billion on a single-terminal setup.

There’s some history at work here. I’ve said before, Kansas City is known as a place that could tackle big ideas and big projects—and arguably put them in the wrong places. Witness Kemper Arena, and
what’s transpired there just this month. Or the Truman Sports Complex, still with impressive stadium designs, but eight miles east of where it would have done the most good for economic vitality and city spirit. And yes, the location of KCI itself.

That has to be taken into account with any public-education initiative that civic leaders hope to apply to sway the KCI-improvements opponents. It’s not enough to tell them that the airlines themselves will cover the vast majority of the costs, and that tax bills won’t suffer for residents at large.

Ingram’s is prepared to put resources into public education that represents the interests of the business community, perhaps more than other media. This might be a good time to highlight some information that seems relevant to the debate, little-known facts that taxpayers and KC area citizens may not know:

• Perhaps the City of KCMO has shelved plans to proceed in the construction of a new single terminal at KCI because Mayor James promised the matter would go to a vote. But if it ever comes to a vote, taxpayers won’t be determining whether to pay for a new airport—their input is on whether to grant the city the bonding authority for the project.

•  As proposed, the new single-terminal plan would cost $964 million; however, the airlines—tenants of KCI— would fund the cost of the new terminal, not taxpayers in general.
• The feature most-often cited in favor of the status quo convenience—is actually a liability in the current security environment. The streets are too close to the gates.
One reason for the delay in moving forward was the different design that City Councilwoman Teresa Loar is backing from Crawford Architects to remodel KCI. This move baffled many, including me. Still, her support for it raises a key point: I believe Kansas City—being one of the most talented and cutting-edge design markets world-wide—should engage a coalition of our finest architectural and engineering firms to enhance the airlines plan. KCI is the gateway to our great city and first impressions are absolutely necessary for a city to compete.
Within two weeks of this publication hitting the streets, we conducted two very important meetings—the Greater Kansas City Economic Development Assembly and we hosted Ingram’s 17th annual Construction Industry Outlook. The sentiment of both assemblies was unquestionably to move forward with building the single terminal at KCI. These meetings included dozens of the smartest people I know, and with organizations that have significant investment in the market and skin in the game.
“The community at large needs to be educated as to what is at stake if we do not have an airport that meets the needs for a transportation system that will spur and grow our economy for decades to come,” said Terry Dunn, Chairman of JE Dunn.
On behalf of these two groups, I can confidently report that the business community not only wants, but is beginning to insist, that we get this project done. Now the matter is back in City Hall’s court.
It’s clear from the comments made at that ED gathering that the region has much at stake with getting the KCI outcome right this time. And for us at Ingram’s, our history of promoting growth, job creation and expansion in this region compels us to come down on the side of moving forward.
It’s time for Kansas City to pull together on this one. Let’s build the damn thing.   

About the author


Joe Sweeney

Editor-In-Chief & Publisher