This final post is a celebration, a salute, a thank you, and a farewell. In a couple of days, we’ll open the gates to a new terminal at KCI. It’s another moment of pride for a city that has had many such moments recently. It’s also a moment of closure for me personally as I got sucked into the conversation over the need for a new terminal and now that it’s finally here, want to make a couple of observations and offer congratulations. Frankly, I debated off and on whether or not to “come out of retirement” to do it but I received a random like of a tweet from 2015 this morning and took it as a sign.
April 2013. Ten years ago. This blog was born in response to an article in the Kansas City Star. In it, the now-former Director of Aviation was allowed to present without challenge, a list of reasons why this city needed a new terminal. In a momentary and ill-advised fit of frustration, I decided to take it upon myself to do the Star’s job. Over time, most of his initial reasons were systematically debunked and it became clear that the main drivers of this project were those who stood to make a lot of money from a billion-dollar terminal project, bureaucrats, and civic leaders with large egos. The airlines (Southwest in particular), the FAA, TSA, and arguably a majority of local users were happy with the existing three terminals.
In the ensuing months and years, we watched the machine go to work. The mayor appointed a special commission to look into the matter. As the “token opposition” in the group, and the only one to make every meeting, I had a front-row seat to learn how something can be scripted with a pre-determined outcome and made to appear impartial and truth-seeking. After several months of testimony, the group actually voted to send a “no-recommendation” decision. Of course, that was never reported in the media and we were soon called back and told that wasn’t an option. The rest of the script played out with the half of the group who never attended a meeting after the first photo op, returning for the last meeting to cast their vote and pose for pictures. This was a good thing because had the vote been limited to members who were there for at least half the meetings, it might not have passed. Ironically, like a blind squirrel finding a nut, a changing aviation industry would soon make the finely scripted yes vote the correct one.
Three years after the debate began, higher efficiency, larger capacity jets were replacing the regional jets that had served so many flights at KCI. Around the time that Southwest got rid of their smaller capacity 737s and replaced them with larger ones, they also pivoted their position on a new terminal. I personally met with Southwest executives early on in the process and they were dead set against a new terminal. I met with them later on and they saw problems with the existing terminals given both the larger planes and what their customers were getting used to at new terminals elsewhere. When I mentioned that the numbers don’t work, they said they were willing to help make them work. That was the beginning of my conversion.
As we prepare to welcome the world through a new gateway to Kansas City, I want to first offer congratulations and thanks to the Aviation Department. The subject of appropriate vilification in the early days of this process, the new leadership has made this a case study of how to do it right. I was privileged to go on a tour during construction and again at the open house a week ago. What you have seen in print, on tv, and online does not do it justice. You might recall that when the city voted yes in 2017, there were no plans, no concrete agreement with the airlines, no final budget, nothing. We simply said we were ok with obligating the city to over a billion dollars in debt for whatever they came up with. Pat Klein, a man I only knew as the guy who made sure we always had coffee at the Task Force meetings, assumed the Director’s role and piloted this project from the vote, through the pandemic, to the ribbon-cutting, on time and on budget (if you allow for some reasonable goal post moving.) Among the things he did, was hire a local firm, MySmartPlans, as an independent manager of all of the construction contracts and documents, thus rendering impossible the usual contract rewriting hijinx so often associated with giant municipal projects. He also got a new deal with the airlines that at least in the short term, “makes the numbers work.” I also want to congratulate Justin Meyer, the tireless “Deputy Director of Aviation – Marketing and Air Service Development.” Soon after his arrival in KC in 2014, he became a champion of a new single terminal. But unlike others at the Aviation Department at the time, he was honest about their past misstatements, open to correction and criticism, and willing to help find the real answers to hard questions. His honesty and openness with me in both directions, allowed me to understand some of his air service challenges better and along with Southwest, swing my position. Much of what you will see in the new terminal, not the least of which are the bathroom doors that swing out, are a direct result of Justin Meyer’s input.
I want to also thank those I met on both sides of this issue and in the media over the past 10 years. I have become friends with several and value those relationships. For the most part, I have been affirmed in my belief that journalism and truth-seeking media are missing in this community and we are suffering for that. The Star can no longer afford journalists, the Business Journal doubled down on bad research when we exposed it, and no one really seems to want much more than good video and press releases. I’m delighted to see a new Delta Sky Club but contrary to the reporting, I’m pretty sure it’s not the first time Delta has had a Sky Club at KCI but that’s going back likely to before most reporters were born.
I want to close both this post and this blog with a couple of requests. USE the new airport amenities, especially if you were one who from the beginning bemoaned the lack of restaurants and shopping at the airport. They are here now but if you don’t use them, they will be gone. They are not utilities, they are businesses and will adjust their hours and staffing to demand, just like the ones in the current terminals did. Change your routine. Get to KCI an hour before you do now and enjoy a beer and some barbecue. Likewise, parking at KCI has historically been the largest revenue generator. Use either the new covered parking next to the terminal or the KCI Economy Parking lots. Yeah, I know the latter has historically been unreliable, to say the least, and that has resulted in the explosion of commercial satellite lots. But those don’t pay the bills and the new terminal layout should make the Economy lot bus issues better. We have bills to pay now.
Finally, thank you. Thank you to everyone who participated in this exercise over the years and for keeping the conversation during the intense months of debate, civil. This endeavor started as a private rant to vent some steam and because I was too lazy to put privacy protection on the domain (before it was automatic) it was discovered and went viral locally and became a 2nd job for about 4 years. A very expensive one. But one for which I am very grateful for the learning experience it yielded and the friendships I found. And even though I may be the only person who ever reads this post, I appreciate the opportunity to express all of the above and wish everyone safe travels. And as Mr. Meyer likes to say, “Thank you for flying.”
Oh, what was the tweet this morning that triggered this “farewell” post?
Ahh, those were the days.