Kansas City fourth district Councilwoman Jolie Justus and former Mayor of Kansas City, Kansas Joe Reardon, hoping to fly past the finish line in the Nov. 7 election, made an impassioned appeal for a new terminal at KCI at the UMKC School of Law last Wednesday.
Tuesday’s vote will culminate in a major milestone in the years-old debate over KCI modernization, and the two leaders stressed the consequences of failure.
“We do not have the infrastructure or amenities we need to take our city to the next level,” said Justus, a graduate of UMKC School of Law.
The event, “A Better KCI,” was sponsored by the UMKC Student Government Association and the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, for which Reardon now serves as president and CEO. The two presenters were introduced by SGA President and third-year law student Drew Rogers.
Both Justus and Reardon have worked tirelessly promoting the construction of a new terminal. Reardon has made over 100 presentations regarding the plan, and Justus claimed she had done the same, delivering six to nine presentations per week.
The councilwoman stressed the airport, built in 1972, served the metropolitan area well for 45 years but no longer supports modern air travel.
Some opponents argue renovation of an existing terminal would be more appropriate.
“It is not financially responsible, and it does not serve our needs to renovate our existing terminal because what we need is a new single terminal that actually meets what we need for aviation this year and beyond,” said Justus.
The $1 billion price tag for a new terminal has had opponents up in arms, but the former mayor noted construction employment is down 11 percent in the region, and the project would provide badly needed jobs.
Justin Meyer, Deputy Director of Aviation at KCI, explained the airport underwent a $258 million renovation between 2000 and 2004, extending a useful life that once again is nearing its end.
The organization promoting a new terminal, A Better KCI, contends KCI needs $500 million in repairs to its current facilities, just to remain operational.
Meyer disputed arguments for further renovation, asserting any renovation would push the aircraft further towards the runways, which could cause aircraft tails to stick out into the airfield and disrupt its operations.
The presenters took issue with concerns over the cost with Justus emphatically stating, “Bottom line: If you don’t use the airport, you never pay for it.”
Reardon then explained that the bonds used for the construction will have no government backing. They would be paid by Southwest Airlines, and in the event Southwest pulls out of KCI, they would be paid by the other airlines, he claimed.
Meyer joined the chorus proclaiming, “The city will never pay for these bonds, not now, not in 50 years, not ever.”
The councilwoman expounded on the point, adding no city services would be affected by the project.
Airlines have requested a new configuration for KCI for several years with Southwest leading the charge.
Gary Kelly, CEO of Southwest Airlines, spoke with area business leaders on Oct. 27, and explained Southwest’s desire to expand its operations at KCI. He claimed the facilities have prohibited such expansion.
Reardon and Justus went to great length to spell out exactly what the airlines claim as their reservations with KCI.
When the airport was built in 1972 it served 3.8 million passengers, growing to over 11 million in 2016, according to the Aviation Department. Three months in 2017 recorded over one million flyers.
After the 9/11 attacks of 2001, the Aviation Department constructed a wall at KCI as a security improvement. The wall uses a considerable amount of floor space originally intended for passenger holding.
Meyer noted passengers step over other passengers sitting on the floor because many holding areas provide 80 seats for flights carrying 150 passengers.
KCI experienced 40 consecutive months of growth in traffic until the streak was broken in September because airlines have removed connecting flights through Kansas City, claimed Meyer.
Airlines argue they “can’t put people through the airport because the customer experience is so bad,” said Justus. Indeed, Southwest announced last week it will end KCI’s nonstop service to Pensacola.
Disagreeing with concerns over convenience, the councilwoman detailed the new terminal proposal. She contrasted the airport’s total of 30 gates currently with 35 gates in the design and the ability to expand to 42 gates in the future.
She elaborated the new terminal would be built in the current location of terminal A. So, there would be no interruption of air travel as terminals B and C will remain fully operational. Additionally, the proposed rendering creates more parking spaces located closer to the terminal than the current configuration.
Reardon implored the audience to consider the first impression many business people form of Kansas City when they arrive at KCI. Cerner performs 98 percent of its business outside of Kansas City, and yet, its employees have a difficult time using KCI, the former mayor added.
Kansas City is currently making a pitch for Amazon’s headquarters relocation. One of the requirements for the relocation is for the headquarters to be within 45 minutes of an international airport.
KCI is regulated as an international airport by the FAA. However, the airport currently offers no international service.
The choice will ultimately come down to what kind of city voters want today and in the future, said the leaders.
Des Moines is considering a new airport and Wichita is renovating its airport. Urging millennials to vote, Meyer said the new terminal will “set up the experience for the rest of their professional careers.”
“If we as young professionals want to make sure that we have a city that makes sense for the future, this has to be done,” Justus stressed. “This is an economic decision that’s going to affect our city for generations.”
At the end of the presentation, Reardon joked that he was done for the day because after too many presentations, he loses himself. As for the councilwoman, she took flight to a town hall at Union Station to make yet another appeal.
Polling locations for the KCI terminal election will be open until 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 7.