KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When Kansas City International Airport opened in 1972, the way we travel today was unimaginable. Soon after, security requirements changed and will continue to evolve dramatically after the 9/11 attacks.
As time went on, the deterioration of the current terminals also continued.
When I started KSHB 41 in 2015, there was a huge gap on how to move forward to bring MCI into today’s travel ecosystem.
In 2016 the renewal path was explored. Some have proposed spending $340 million to upgrade and modernize existing terminals. There was just one problem; the Transportation Security Administration sent a letter to the Kansas City Department of Aviation stating that the goal for security officers is to get people through security in 10 minutes, but that the MCI crew had difficulty doing this due to the design of the airport.
The letter went on to say, “The 1972 facility designs do not effectively meet safety needs in the 21st century.”
City leaders started talking.
With the refurbishment idea deemed insufficient, attention shifted to building a new single terminal building. Everyone from the head of Kansas City Power and Light to the chairman and CEO of the Kansas City Chiefs has released statements in support of a new terminal. The people in Kansas City weren’t on board yet.
Once 2017 rolled around, then-Mayor Sly James announced that Burns and McDonnell would build a new single terminal and assume all financial risk. Quickly, there was a firestorm of criticism against making a decision on a contractor without voter approval and an actual bidding process. Shortly thereafter, I reported Mayor James’ announcement that with only 40% of the votes in favor, the plan would be suspended.
By this time, then-Councilman Quinton Lucas was an ardent critic of the process and assumed the project was a done deal. He has been a leading voice for transparency and accountability as the city council committee charged with ultimately reviewing four bids worked to award the project. In Fall 2017, I reported on KSHB 41 that the city council approved Edgemoor to build a new single terminal building at KCI by a vote of 10-2.
In the months that followed, I spent countless days talking to people on the Metro who believed there was a significant need for a new terminal and to those who thought it was fine the way it was. Edgemoor and the Kansas City Department of Aviation traveled to neighborhood, chamber of commerce, civic and social meetings to answer questions and get feedback on preliminary plans. I’m being honest about how tense and, at times, emotional some of those meetings were. Voters approved the project in November 2017, and work began shortly thereafter.
Edgemoor is delivering this new terminal on budget, ahead of schedule and has exceeded its targets for local, minority and women-owned businesses participating in the project. He also launched a terminal workforce program that put 185 Kansas City people into skilled trades, where over 60 percent still work and more than $5 million in wages have been earned.
The community benefit arrangement so many came to the table and worked tirelessly to put together really worked and is now a model for businesses across the country. Throughout this project, Edgemoor has dealt with a pandemic, delays, supply chain issues and rising construction costs with grace and ease. The design also manages to capture so much of what makes Kansas City special; a fountain as you go through security, local restaurants, terrace reclaimed from the old terminals, and one of the most significant investments in local art this community has ever seen.
Looking back, what I’ve heard more than anything is that people in Kansas City have a fondness for the airport that has endured and served as home to countless memories in its 50+ years. There’s still a lot of pride in how quickly you can park, get through security, and get to the gate for an upcoming flight. Today, in the process of opening a new terminal and gateway to this community, I feel the same pride. Slowly but surely, people across Metro are embracing the growth and momentum this city is experiencing.
As I covered every step of the process in this new terminal from passionate debate to jaw-dropping reality, the Kansas City Royals won a World Series, the Kansas City Current made it to the championship in its second season, the Kansas City Chiefs have won two Super Bowl titles, the 2023 NFL Draft is only weeks away, and the 2026 World Cup games will be held right here in the heart of Kansas City.
I had a private moment walking into the new one terminal building at Kansas City International Airport and it took my breath away. It has been an honor to speak with everyone involved in building the largest infrastructure project in Kansas City history, by all accounts an overwhelming success. As you take your first trip to the new KCI, look around you and absorb all that our friends, neighbors and leaders have worked so hard on for so many years. All the intense debate, discussion and dedication seems to have been worth it.
KC, this is just the beginning. Have a good trip.