The city now has the four proposals for a new single-terminal at Kansas City International Airport. Each submitting group has spent 6-digit amounts in time and materials (and in Burns and McDonnell’s case, considerable PR and advertising) preparing their cases. Each obviously thinks theirs is the best and can support that contention. So who is right? Who is the best and why? More importantly, what is the criteria for the city for determining that and is there an option for “none of the above” that sends them back to refine and improve? If there is not one of them that clearly envisions KCI becoming the airlines’ favorite place to fly for passenger experience, operational efficiency, and expense, along with an easily demonstrable improvement for local passenger experience then we are not there yet.
First of all, kudos to those on the Council who pushed for open and competitive bidding in the first place. Extra kudos for those who pushed for a more transparent process. So what happens next? Remarkably, there was no talk of including the airlines in the review process but with the public sharing by the proposers (not the city) of at least three of the proposals, the airlines will have a chance to chime in. As they’ve been excluded from every move in the past other than being asked to pay the rent to help pay for it, this is a good thing. (UPDATE: I was told by an airline executive today that they hoped to see the proposals following the presentations to the committee. However, an Aviation Department official has since told me that airlines were present for the presentations.)
The most important thing the City can do at this point is the same thing it did in May – not rush. Thanks to not rushing, we have four competing proposals now instead of one. One is reported to have an option that would save the city over $400 million from the original Burns and McDonnell proposal. Apples to apples? Maybe, maybe not. That will take time to discern but this is a 50-year decision so take the time.
The city does NOT have to select a final proposal before submitting ballot language next week. Ballot language can be in general terms while they work on and fine tune and perhaps even negotiate the preferred proposal(s). Take another 30-45 days to bring in the experts and get it right. Then release the final proposal a month before the election. That’s plenty of time to discuss and debate.
Also CRITICAL to this process is someone needing to do some serious, credible pro-forma work. Are the necessary revenue numbers to pay for the proposal realistic? Will these proposals really fly?
Parking is the #1 revenue generator at KCI and would theoretically be the largest contributor to paying off a new terminal. The plans call for a 6500 space garage. (There are currently 4500 garage spaces plus economy and other surface parking.) But how much will they cost? Most assume an increase but what if the increase sends more people to The Parking Spot or Uber? Bob Berkebile, part of the original KCI design team and now an advisor on the Burns and McDonnell team said that future transportation trends likely meant we didn’t need 6500 spaces? So what IS the projected parking revenue and what are the assumptions?
Concessions have always been a number with no basis in fact. The Mayor’s task force never brought in the current KCI concession operator to ask them what they thought KCI’s potential concession revenue was. You can build as many restaurants and boutiques as you want but ultimately, a private operator will need to staff and operate it and will need to do so at a profit. Currently, KCI only makes around 15% on every dollar spent. Doubling or even tripling our current concession revenue puts only a dent in the debt payment. Regardless, as it’s a very visible and talked about component of this endeavor, let’s get some real numbers. Tripling the amount of concession space does no good if the spaces are boarded up and empty for lack of a willing operator.
Value Engineering. This is a term developers use to remove features, downgrade amenities, etc., when costs increase to stay under budget. I recently had the opportunity to spend the night in the new St. Louis terminal addition. That means lots of time to explore and I was struck by old and broken seating, trash cans like something from Costco and a “Coming Soon” club area that showed no signs of a completion date anytime soon. Value Engineering? No idea but it’s something that needs to be addressed upfront.
Finally, honesty. We’ve been floating bogus numbers back and forth now for years. Both sides are guilty. There are not 90 gates available now nor are there going to be 12,000 new jobs created by a new terminal project. The voters don’t trust City Hall on this and that distrust is well-earned. There are no strikes left in the count.
Ultimately the voters will decide whether the best is good enough. But for now, the Council needs to do everything it can to ensure that the voters are indeed voting on the best possible alternative for our current terminals. Then maybe we can finally settle this.
UPDATE #2: The Kansas City Star has put out a nice summary of today’s presentations along with links to 3 of the 4 proposals. However, their Burns and McDonnell pdf focuses primarily on financing. For the full presentation, click here. If/when the 4th proposal is made available, I’ll add the link here.
UPDATE #3: KSHB-TV has links to video here.