VanLoh Just Wants a New Terminal
You don’t have [all the information] yet. We don’t even have it yet. I know what I want because I want a new airport.
With those words at Thursday morning’s Northland Regional Chamber of Commerce meeting, Aviation Department Administrator Mark VanLoh nicely summed up the reason that Kansas City taxpayers have been embroiled against their will in a discussion about building a $1.2 billion new terminal: He just wants it.
VanLoh has been criticized for his clumsy public campaign for a new terminal. And now, perhaps as part of a new approach to getting what he wants, he is revising history. At Thursday’s meeting, he clearly gave the impression that the airlines had to be dragged to the negotiation table.
What the 2013 [plan] did . . . was bring the airlines to the table because they saw something in Kansas City. Something was going to happen and they wanted to be part of it. And we welcome them to the table; we are meeting to this day with the airlines. I know the mayor’s Terminal Advisory Committee recommended a new terminal based on the evidence they had. And of course the Aviation Department recommends a new terminal based on what we know, but we wanted to get back with the airlines.
This does not square with the reported facts. In November 2013, Austin Alonzo of the Kansas City Business Journal reported that “Southwest was not satisfied with its minimal inclusion in vetting the airport proposal before VanLoh presented it to the City Council earlier this year.” The Kansas City Star reported that the airlines then sought to use their lease extension agreement to secure participation in future airport planning.
VanLoh is also overstating his role as champion of the people. He said on Thursday morning that the airlines were surprised to learn how passionate Kansas Citians are about the airport’s convenience, and that the Aviation Department would fight any design that didn’t preserve that convenience. Yet in April 2013 testimony before the city council, VanLoh’s consultants argued that the airport offered a “poor passenger experience.”
That’s when Mayor James advised the Aviation Department that they wouldn’t curry favor with the public by beating up on the airport. The talking point was removed. But even in Thursday’s chamber presentation, VanLoh argued that the perception Kansas Citians have about short walking distances is an “optical illusion.” Regardless of MCI’s convenience, it certainly isn’t the public’s belief that VanLoh is championing. He is merely doing whatever he thinks it takes to get what he wants.
VanLoh said that he expects to have a recommendation before the city council by the end of summer.