Want to get to “yes” from voters for a needed, modern Kansas City International Airport terminal? Here’s how.
Prove it will be convenient for hometown passengers.
Prove that tax dollars won’t finance it.
Prove that the new plan unveiled last week — to have local engineering firm Burns & McDonnell design and privately finance it — isn’t a special-interest deal backed by Mayor Sly James and City Manager Troy Schulte.
Finally, hold the election when all the proof is in. If that means after this November — when some like James want the issue on the ballot — so be it.
I know: Getting a new KCI will be tough. Lots of people like how the current design serves hometown passengers. They can get to their flights quite easily.
So if promoters want at least 50.0001 percent “yes” votes in an election, here are some ways to do it.
Convenience: People need to see the new design. They need to be able to count the steps it will take to get to the counter, through security and to their planes in the future — then compare it to what happens now.
They need to see exactly what kinds of modern conveniences will be installed in the new KCI. Count the increase in bathrooms.
Can a new, privately financed plan convince voters they won’t be giving up much of their cherished convenience for an airport that would have more modern bells and whistles? Can the sketches be available to voters before an election?
If that cannot be done, forget trying to get much support from the very large “I love KCI’s convenience” crowd.
Tax dollars: Too many Kansans Citians think public funds from taxpayers will build a new KCI terminal. Wrong. Passengers will pay in all kinds of ways — through their tickets, parking, concessions, etc. — to support the bonds used to pay for the terminal.
Any privately financed plan will at least reduce that concern. That’s a big and understandable reason that James, Schulte and others want to rush to embrace the Burns & McDonnell proposal.
But that brings us to ….
Special-interest deal: Schulte and others say Burns & McDonnell should be rewarded with the KCI project and not have to compete with others for it. The firm took the risk to spend a couple dozen employees’ time for months on a privately financed KCI terminal, it’s argued.
But what’s the harm in having Burns & McDonnell compete with others — in Kansas City or elsewhere — for this project? That could reduce costs. It could lead to designs that better serve future passengers.
Most importantly, allowing competition would reduce (if not eliminate) the possible public perception that the skids were somehow greased at City Hall for Burns & McDonnell on this project.
The full City Council this week and in the near future needs to make sure its grapples with this matter. If the members go the no-compete route, the politicians must offer the public compelling reasons to do it that way.
Election time: James has proposed voting on a KCI deal in November to get a long-delayed project off the ground.
However, that’s nonsensical if the city can’t show voters the design (see above), provide plenty of proof that taxpayers aren’t on the hook for it, and prove that the winner of this nearly $1 billion deal didn’t get any special favors.
Pay no attention to James or others who say this issue must be rushed to the ballot. History shows why.
Early plans pushed to “save” Union Station included an inside botanical garden. Voters didn’t embrace them. The bistate plan that truly did lead to a renovated station didn’t come along until 1996.
In 2004, backers of a bistate tax plan to renovate the Truman Sports Complex said it was the best possible way to get the deal done. Voters disagreed. In 2006, Jackson County voters endorsed a different sales tax for that cause.
Before a vote on a new KCI terminal, several questions must be convincingly answered by City Hall and Burns & McDonnell — or whoever ends up winning a possible competition for this crucial project.