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Northland Not Happy About Lack Of Local Restaurants Proposed At Kansas City’s New Airport

The Kansas City Council got its first look Thursday at the preferred choice for the concessionaire that would provide restaurants, news and gifts at the new Kansas City International Airport terminal.
The Kansas City Council got its first look Thursday at the preferred choice for the concessionaire that would provide restaurants, news and gifts at the new Kansas City International Airport terminal.

While the company selected to manage the restaurants and stores at the new terminal included several local restaurants in their proposal, eateries north of the Missouri River were noticeably absent.

A special committee has recommended a Canadian-based company for the lucrative contract to manage the restaurants and stores at the new Kansas City International Airport terminal.

But Kansas City council members still have lots of questions before they approve the proposal.

The city council got its first look Thursday at the preferred choice for the concessionaire, Vantage Airport Group. A selection committee unanimously recommended Vantage Airport Group over four other proposers: Delaware North Companies Inc.; Greater Kansas City Restaurant & Retail Group; MERA KC; and PLTR-SSP @KCI LLC.

Vantage was chosen because of its strong financial proposal, its partnerships with local Kansas City vendors and community organizations and its commitment to disadvantaged, minority and small businesses, according to Aviation Director Pat Klein.

“They have significant direct local participation with over 80 percent proposed eating and shopping experiences being local,” Klein told the council.

At the new KCI terminal, slated to open in March 2023, those local vendors are expected to include a variety of barbecue masters, Bo Lings, Martin City Brewery, a Made in Kansas City Marketplace, Parisi Coffee, City Market vendors and healthy food restaurants. Officials said there would be strong support for minority-owned and small businesses.

Vantage presented a “neighborhood” concept that would capture the flavor of such places as 18th and Vine, City Market, Union Station, Brookside and the Stockyards.

Klein said Vantage also had the strongest financial proposal to benefit the aviation department with millions of dollars annually, including a minimum annual guaranteed payment of $1.75 per enplaned passenger, higher than what other bidders proposed for the 15-year life of the contract.

“It’s a tremendous proposal,” Klein argued.

Vantage also has committed to paying $15 per hour plus benefits, has a fund to assist small businesses and is offering all existing concession employees opportunities at the new terminal.

Skepticism from Northland council members

Several council members questioned the recommendation and wanted more details on how Vantage beat out the other competitors. The full Council still must approve the proposal. The Council’s Transportation Committee will debate the matter at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 22.

Representatives of several well-known Kansas City businesses, such as Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, told The Kansas City Star they were not part of the selected team, and they wondered how the winning proposal was chosen.

On Thursday, Councilwoman Teresa Loar, who lives in the Northland, noted that all the restaurant and retail concepts in the Vantage proposal came from south of the Missouri River.

“The airport is north of the river,” she said. “There’s nothing about north of the river in here…..there was no mention of living North or what we represent in your proposal.”

The committee that selected Vantage did include at least one representative from the Northland, councilman Dan Fowler.

Loar also expressed some concern that Vantage is headquartered in Vancouver and has offices in New York and Chicago.

“I’m hearing a lot of out of town and out of country people,” she said. “I’m not hearing a lot of local, except our local restaurants.”

Loar also questioned why the selection committee went with an airport developer rather than a master concessionaire.

“We had four companies come before us which were master concessionaires, which is how the majority of airports are run in this country,” she said.

Sammy Patel, vice president of commercial operations with Vantage, defended the group’s track record. He said the company is in 31 airports worldwide, including at LaGuardia’s new terminal and at Midway in Chicago.

“We don’t have a cookie cutter approach,” Patel told the council. “To us, no two airports are the same. We walk the talk and we have a successful track record of strong local partnerships.”

He said none of the group’s tenants at airports has failed, even during the COVID pandemic.

Lynn Horsley is a freelance writer in Kansas City. Follow her on Twitter @LynnHorsley.
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