Nobody Said a New KCI Would Be Easy. Or Right.

By Jack Cashill

Despite a full-court press from City Hall, the public remains stubbornly opposed to billion-dollar solutions. Especially for  problems it doesn’t perceive as real.

It seemed so easy back in 2013. The good folks on the KCMO City Council looked into the future and saw a glitzy new single terminal for KCI. Kansas City was not “going to be left behind,” Mayor Sly James promised, the Council cheered.

Three years later, the cheering has stopped. After at least 10 public hearings and some 80 meetings, workshops and “charrettes”—whatever those are—the mayor is no closer to selling the public on his “really cool Kansas City icon” than he ever was.

The problem for Mayor James and his allies is not that locals don’t know about the really cool airports in other cities. The problem is that they do. They have to negotiate them every time they return from wherever back to Kansas City.

They know about the jammed curbside drop-offs. They know about the long queues at security. They know about the lengthy walks/runs to the gates. And after Brussels, they know how vulnerable those single terminals are to terrorist attacks.

Even more irksome for James and pals is that a genuine grass-roots organization leads the resistance. As of this writing, Citizens For Responsible Government has a whopping $1,500 in the bank. There is no useful shaming of Big Oil, Big Tobacco, the Koch Brothers, or The Star’s go-to piñata, Sam Brownback, a governor the newspaper has blamed for everything from lagging SAT scores to the stink of pigs.

The single.

Genuine Displeasure

Unlike so many other “activists” hounding City Hall, the CFRG folks don’t have their hands out. Having little experience with this kind of resistance, civic leaders have no idea how to make it go away.

And unlike other causes—transgendered bathrooms come to mind—the CFRG cause has widespread support by actual taxpayers. According to polling data, voter approval for a new single terminal is said to hover around the 20 percent mark.

Dan Coffey believes the city is deathly afraid of a public ballot. If the bond measure goes to the ballot, he suspects the City will be tempted to suppress the vote by scheduling a special August election. In August, cozying up to a few key interest groups and spending a couple million on advertising would generate a better ROI than in November.

There remains, however, a chance that voters might not get a say at all. “As you know,” Coffey wrote to Council Airport Committee Chair Jolie Justus, “there are some people working now to circumvent the voters on this issue.” That move may come with consequences. Added Coffey, “Many in our group feel circumvention would be grounds for a recall.” Open as she is to a future mayoral run, Justus has to sense how delicate her position is.

Like most area residents, CFRG activists know the airport needs an upgrade. What they oppose “is any group which would try to jam a concept down the taxpayers throats without an open, honest discussion about the project.” This, in no uncertain terms, they accuse City Hall of doing.

At this stage of the battle, the CFRG has thrown its support behind the so-called “Crawford Plan,” a mega renovation of existing terminals proposed by the Kansas City-based Crawford Architects in association with Woods Bagot, a global design and consulting firm. The Crawford plan would begin with a rehab of Terminal A to be followed by a rehab of Terminal B.

As the CFRG suggests, the word “rehab” does not do the Crawford Plan justice. The plan would keep the horseshoe configuration of the terminal but expand its space outwards into the current parking areas. The new interior would be as bright and big and shiny as that of any other airport and yet still accessible.


About the author

Jack Cashill is Ingram's Senior Editor and has been affiliated with the magazine for more than 30 years. He can be reached at jackcashill@yahoo.com. The views expressed in this column are the writer's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Ingram's Magazine.