Now that we’ve made it past the media’s new year predictions about KCI, we can get back to reality. Nothing has changed. The past few weeks have featured presentations by extremely well-paid consultants. Consultants hired to tell the Aviation Department what they want to hear so they can be hired back. So what did we learn? Primarily that we still can’t rely on honest transparency from Aviation, that their plan is to continue to throw “findings” and proposals at us like spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks and that the media has still not resolved in the new year to challenge what’s presented.
Let’s rewind. A few months ago we were told that it had been determined that a “renovation” of Kansas City International Airport was going to cost more than a brand new terminal so there was no longer any point to look at renovation options. Of course, while most average folks wondered how that was even possible, there was no push-back from the media. No one said, “Define renovation.” The new Council to their credit at least asked to see the numbers which were remarkably absent. The old Council would have simply said, “What are we waiting for?” And magically, the numbers are now such that the new terminal came down below that dreaded “billion dollar” mark while renovation went past it. One might conclude that the accountant works for a PR firm.
So how does a renovation cost more than a new terminal? By redefining renovation to mean building a completely new terminal inside the old one and adding stuff until the costs get to where you need them. Conveniently forgotten are three facts:
- The terminals were completely gutted to the concrete shell and renovated within the last 15 years. It’s not a 40 year-old terminal. It’s a 15 year-old terminal inside a 40 year-old concrete shell (not to be confused with the 80 year-old concrete shell that is City Hall.)
- The Mayor’s Airport Task Force asked the Aviation Department to estimate what it would cost to renovate, repair and replace those infrastructure and other needs not addressed in the previous renovation. The number they came back with was less than half the cost of a new terminal and half the cost of this new “renovation.”
- This “half-price” option was removed from consideration by task force leaders and was not a choice the task force was given when it came time to make a recommendation.
Since the inside of these recently renovated terminals need very little make-over, how do you run-up a billion in renovation costs? By converting them to single security checkpoint terminals, even though TSA told the task force that our current set-up was better from a security standpoint and that operationally, we would not save money by consolidating. Their only value is to make the renovation option cost-prohibitive and the new terminal option more attractive.
During the recent presentation to the Council the Aviation Department’s consultant told the Council that our security areas were smaller than required and have to be fixed regardless. With all respect to the consultant, I’m inclined to defer to TSA on this one. They not only don’t have a problem with the current footprint but told the task force that in the future, technology was anticipated to make the required footprint smaller, not larger. This is reminiscent of when Aviation Director Mark VanLoh told the task force that we did not have room in the current configuration to add those TSA Pre-Check lanes that somehow managed to show up anyway. Of course he also told us that Allegiant Air would not come to KCI due to our gate issues nor could we attract more international service like that recently announced by American.
The entire KCI issue can be distilled down to two simple questions:
- Should we build a new single terminal instead of finishing the renovation we started 15 years ago and are still paying for?
- Can we trust the Aviation Department, their paid consultants and city officials with agendas to give us honest information so that we can collectively come up with the best answer to question one?
As long as we can’t rely on the media to ask real questions and pull the spaghetti off the wall, I’d look for more of it and suggest that you and your Councilperson question everything on your own.
Happy New Year!
Honestly I think that since tax dollars are not going into this project for a new terminal but there would be for rennovations. This is because the airlines pay for the new terminal with fees and they have stated outright that they support this plan and would not support the rennovations. That being said, you worry about tax dollars and how much a terminal will cost, well honestly then you should support the new terminal than as this is the most cost effective, and do not just say you want to save MCI, this is a stance of people who just do not like change and have a fear of the unknown. To say that a new terminal would be less convenient, that can only be said for people that wait til the last min to head to the airport. Having food and drinks and anything else you may need beyond security is more convenient. Also not having to go through security again for a connecting flight is convenient for anyone flying through kansas city. Also having a newer terminal will pull in new business whether it be shopping or food which would further alleviate the cost of a new terminal. Anyone that is looking at the price tag alone is simply not seeing the whole picture. The new terminal would also attract airlines and create more direct flights rather than having the dreaded long layover in other cities.
Who are we supposed to trust then? Citizens content with mediocrity and a 5 ft walk to their gate? Showmeinstitute? savekci.org commenters and proclaimed experts?
I guess I am just confused that the opponents really offer no viable alternative other than to build a second level to the terminals which already exist. Seems like a band-aid to me.
Thanks for the update Kevin and for keeping this channel open.
We do of course share the same points of skepticism about the shell game that was perpetrated under the ruse of “Major Renovation.” While the cost of borrowing remains low, the Service Life Extension Program continuation option remains the most cost effective path forward and doesn’t require jettisoning Convenience for the dubious economics behind the supposed “needed improvements” that the single terminal option advocates (buoyed by Director Van Loh’s clouded personal ambitions and his development friends in Platte County) insist are “only a $B dollars down the road.
Of concern just now is whether the usual beneficiaries in the “1985 Forever” Development Corps will succeed in subverting the petition process (via the sham on the Convention Hotel petition nullification) in a way that will justify reversing the Council’s mandate of a vote on any new Terminal funding plan. I would not rule that possibility out.
And despite the early action by new Council Members to question the status quo of what is happening in the Appendix K process which Van Loh is in absolute control of – none has gone into the ATAG Report to inquire forcefully about what became of the transparency recommendations and how those having been dismissed “with prejudice” are likely to impact the credibility of any final proposal that Council puts to the voters.
And by the way, according to recent action to add more money to the Aviation Department’s planning consultants budget it appears that a total of $8.9M has been authorized for the work since the ATAG stood down; reading the two reports to the council as evidence of what the Flying Public (yes the ones who really pay the freight) is getting for its professional deep-thinking $’s one can almost hear the revolving door beginning to spin in anticipation of a “dear departed Director’s” next landing.
Mark VanLoh has a history of dubious assertions. Upon resigning on February 10, 2004 from Chattanooga’s Airport Authority, he was quoted in a statement as saying:
“…at this juncture in my career, I want to pursue other professional opportunities in the Chattanooga area, which my family and I have grown to love.”
That love for Chattanooga must have been short-lived as he was heading Kansas City’s Airport Authority three months later.
Quick admin item… The commenter “Kevin” above is a reader and not yours truly. That said, he makes an interesting observation given that the KCI search process was likely much longer than 3 months. – KK