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Does the city need a new, billion-dollar Kansas City International?



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Johnson's office responded to an interview request with instructions to call Global Prairie, a PR firm that the Aviation Department hired in March for up to $117,000, for comment and information about the terminal proposal.

Since last year, the single-terminal concept has faced opposition not just from the City Council but also from what might be a majority of the public. Polls suggest that most Kansas Citians don't want a new airport. (Pollsters have not released the verbiage of the questions asked, though, which tempers the results somewhat.)

Besides, a citizens group tried to start a petition against the project, only to be beaten back by the city charter. Now, Friends of KCI is opting for a petition drive in order to stall a new terminal without a public vote on it first. Spokesman John Murphy says his Brookside-based group would prefer that City Hall stick to issues such as education, crime and infrastructure.

"We've got all these other problems to fix," Murphy says. "Why are they tackling this?"

Crime and local air traffic aren't mutually exclusive, though. Money used for a new terminal would not come from the Kansas City Police Department's budget. Friends of KCI's efforts seem to stem more from their mistrust of City Hall and its misplaced sense of priorities than from the technical aspects of a revamped terminal.

"Our concern at the airport is, they will try an end around on the voters," Murphy says.

That's possible. Issuing bonds would require a public vote, but if such a ballot didn't go the city's way, it could seek funding from private equity (at a much higher borrowing cost).

Schulte, the city manager, cautions City Hall skeptics that a new terminal is not a done deal.

Mayor Sly James appointed a 24-member advisory committee on May 14 to research whether the current airport is suitable and, if not, how to find the best option for a future airport.

"The deal is not cooked one way or the other," Schulte tells The Pitch. "We're going to give it an honest look ... and be as transparent as we can."

The co-chairman of that advisory group is Bob Berkebile, the BNIM architect who helped design the original three-terminal model.

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