A city advisory committee is officially recommending that the Kansas City International Airport should be one terminal with no plan for renovation for the other two terminals.
City leaders say the airport can and must do better if it’s going to handle the passenger workload of the future. The public in the past has overwhelmingly supported KCI's multiple terminal operations.
Some say the renovations are needed, but others want to tear KCI down and rebuild. In the past, advisory group members have said it may be cheaper to rebuild.
In 2014, the 24-member group determined that the current configuration does not best serve the residents and visitors of Kansas City. They would like to see construction of a new terminal replacing and eliminating the three separate terminals.
"(Current model) lacks the flexibility that an airport needs to address the next 40 years," said David Fowler, who was co-chairman of the advisory group. "(Single terminal) is clearly the favored alternative that provides the most advantages to our city."
One of the reasons why a new design is being considered is that KCI is the first thing travelers see of the city, and some think the airport does not do enough to show off Kansas City.
Some problems the group has identified include aging plumbing, heating and cooling, inadequate close-in parking, lack of security space, shops and food for travelers. Airlines also say it's difficult to connect in.
However, others say the layout of the airstrip is comfortable for passengers and easy to navigate. Much of the public likes the convenience and doesn't want many changes.
"It's easy in easy out. It's a great airport to work with and I've been to a lot of airports. This is a nice one," Olathe resident Mike Orzeckowski said.
The airport has three terminals. Due to airline consolidation, just two terminals are operating now. The proposals call for building the new airport on the site of the now-closed Terminal A.
On Tuesday, the advisory committee recommended the city look to rebuild the airport into a single terminal, instead of renovating the existing building. It’s a project funded by the airlines through users’ fees, but they’ll borrow money from the city through bonds. Local taxes won't be needed for construction.
“We are turning every stone and looking at every possible contingency. We’re going to be looking at construction cost estimates, new builds on airports that are currently out there. So there’s a lot of examples going on across the country that we’re looking to emulate,” said Steve Sisnetos with Southwest Airlines.
KCI's future has been a hot topic in Kansas City for years with people speaking passionately on both sides of the issue.
“We have better service than a lot of our peer airports because we’re a cheap airport,” said Patrick Tuohey with the Show-Me Institute. “If we spend an awful lot of money and push that cost off on to the airlines, they’ll fly somewhere else or fly out of somewhere else for their coast-to-coast connections or that. And the people of Kansas City will lose a great option we’ve got right now.”
The proposal has divided Kansas City area residents. Those who like the current design cite its ease of use in getting to and from the gates.
"It's small enough to not have to be like Atlanta or Chicago where you're dealing with all kinds of transit, and it's easy getting around here which is the great thing that's why renovate what we already have," said Mark Forman, of Leavenworth.
“I sort of like it the way it is because it seems easier. You know, I’ve been to a number of airports, but this one, the curve and the different terminals, has been very helpful,” said Bill Platt of Nevada.
The project is expected to be one of Kansas City's most important public building projects of the next decade - estimated at more than $1.2 billion. Airport officials provided this figure in 2013. The task force did not estimate the costs and city officials say an engineering and design study would help determine the costs before any construction began.
The decision will be in the hands of the next city council, which will be sworn in a few weeks.
The final proposal will be made to the city council by May 2016.
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