Mayor Sly James celebrated a milestone Thursday in the journey to a new single terminal at Kansas City International Airport.
After months of back and forth, the airlines that fly out of KCI — and will ultimately pay for the construction — have coalesced around a $1.5 billion price for the terminal.
“We are at a point now where we have never been before,” James said.
The city has been waiting for the airlines to agree to a price before they can approve a development agreement. Until then, no significant design or construction work can begin.
The new price is lower than the $1.64 billion that had been discussed before. Late last year, Southwest Airlines had a consultant to double check that figure after some smaller carriers balked at the cost.
Steve Sisneros, Southwest’s Managing Director for Airport Affairs, assured city council members that the lower price does not mean the city will get a lesser airport.
“We are convinced and firmly believe that the budget is appropriate to design to budget and meet the scope requirements that have already been laid out to you,” Sisneros said.
He added that the structure of the agreement allows them to adjust the price up or down if unforeseen costs come up. And, he also said that should the project come in over budget, that the airlines will front that cost.
How the scope of the project would stay the same despite a price reduction of nearly ten percent wasn’t clear.
Fourth district councilwoman Jolie Justus, who chairs the airport committee, said that Kansas City’s process is unique — normally, a price is reached after more design work has been completed.
“A lot of times aviation projects and large infrastructure projects, it’s too far down the design process and that’s why you have the cost overruns. We’re early enough right now to set the goal, work toward it and still get everything that we’ve been shown,” Justus, who is running for mayor, said.
Still, there was some skepticism about how a $140 million drop in price could not affect the project.
First district councilwoman Heather Hall said she wants to be able to reassure her constituents that they won't be losing out on good bathrooms or places to plug in electronic devices.
“To know that we’re reducing the cost by $140 million, that immediately puts a red flag in people’s ears,” Hall said.
The current design is only about ten percent complete. Edgemoor Managing Director Geoff Stricker said every amenity that has been promised to date will remain in the final version.
There is still some work left to do — although Southwest is the largest carrier at KCI, the agreement still needs to be signed by a majority of the other airlines. Aviation Director Pat Klein said the other carriers are on board and they expect to return to the council with a signed agreement February 25.
The city is also still waiting for the Federal Aviation Administration to approve an environmental assessment of the site. Demolition of Terminal A can’t begin until that happens and the design work won’t be able to move past a conceptual stage.
If the federal government shuts down again, that could delay the process.
Lisa Rodriguez is a reporter and the afternoon newscaster for KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter @larodrig.