Patrick Tuohey

The Kansas City Star is reporting on efforts to revive the effort to build a new $1.2-billion single airport terminal. While we’re all waiting on the details, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • People in Kansas City love their airport. Pride in a local airport probably isn’t very common around the country, but it is a very important aspect of this campaign. Mayor James, before celebrating criticism of the airport, counseled consultants not to criticize the airport for that very reason.
  • The plan at hand is to spend $1.2 billion to reduce the number of gates we have now. Where else does a city spend that sort of money to get less service?
  • The matter of financing has never been an issue with the Show-Me Institute. Back in 2014, we listed some reasons to oppose the airport terminal, but the cost to taxpayers is not one of them. Financing only became an issue when city leaders said that the airlines agreed to finance the project. They didn’t.
  • Regardless of whether the financing is done publicly or privately, it would result in a higher cost to travelers to pay down the debt. That higher cost would make MCI less attractive to airlines and travelers alike. Consider Cincinnati, where ticket prices were so high that local businesses flew employees out of Dayton, an hour away. Or consider Sacramento. Or San Jose.
  • We published a piece in 2014, “Five Good Reasons to Reject New KCI Terminal.” At least four of those reasons still stand, and the piece remains a worthwhile read.

According to the Star story, Kansas City engineering firm Burns & McDonnell has proposed to privately build and finance a new single terminal at MCI. However, there appear to be strings attached:

One key to the proposal for Burns & McDonnell is that it would get an exclusive arrangement with the city to provide the design and come up with a guaranteed maximum price.

Other firms would not have access to make their own offer, nor would the city request bids.

Not surprisingly, Steve McDowell, CEO of BNIM (another architectural firm in KC), expressed concern that such a deal would exclude a great deal of area architectural and engineering talent, telling the Star that “some of the best work in the country is coming out of our city, and I’d hate to see that not taken advantage of for the design of our gateway.”

  • The Show-Me Institute is aligned with The Kansas City Star editorial board calling for a policy debate that is “open, fair, complete, fact-based and inclusive.” If the past four years are any indication, it’s fair to wonder whether that debate will happen.
  • Lastly, the Star mentions that privately financed airports are nothing new; they’re common in Europe. And therein lies an idea worthy of consideration in Kansas City. If Burns & McDonnell is eager to build and operate a new terminal, why don’t they buy the whole thing? The Show-Me Institute published a paper on this not too long ago. (See page 17.) Not only is Branson’s airport privately owned, but the Kansas City Council previously considered privatizing MCI.

If the City is open to private financing and private operations, how far are we from private ownership?

About the Author

Patrick Tuohey
Patrick Tuohey

Patrick Tuohey is the Director of Municipal Policy at the Show-Me Institute.