KANSAS CITY, MO. — Kansas City residents will not vote this year on whether to build a new, single-terminal airport because most citizens oppose the idea, Mayor Sly James said Tuesday.
Only 39 percent of 800 residents polled last week said they supported building a new, nearly $1 billion Kansas City International Airport, James said, indicating that any ballot issue seeking financing of the new airport would be overwhelmingly defeated.
City and aviation officials have been discussing the airport's future for more than five years, with sharp division over whether to build a single terminal or keep the current three-terminal design.
"The facts and data make it clear that our citizens do not yet think it's the right time for the city to do this. So I think we are best served by pausing the conversation for now and focusing on our city's other priorities," said James, who still personally supports building a new airport.
The mayor said he didn't know when the issue would be revived but he fully expects the city to someday decide it needs a new, modern airport. For now, city leaders will focus on other needs, such as infrastructure improvements, reducing crime and improving education. It would have taken a massive media campaign, costing between $2 million and $3 million, to persuade residents to support the new airport and the city did not want to spend that much money on a campaign, he said.
Airlines serving the airport — Southwest, United, Delta, Frontier and American — last week announced they supported the single-terminal concept and were willing to help pay for it. They said both the timing and the estimated $964 million cost were preferable to renovating the three existing 43-year-old existing terminals. The airlines said they would not help finance renovation of the existing layout.
James said he did not believe the airlines would leave Kansas City if the airport is not modernized but they would not be able to expand or attract more international flights.
Southwest Airlines, which represented the airlines at last week's council meeting, said in a statement Tuesday that it was disappointed but "we understand that the mayor and city council are responsible to Kansas City voters. Southwest will continue to work with the city as our partner to provide the best air service and customer service for Kansas City travelers."
Councilwoman Teresa Loar, a critic of the single-terminal plan, said Tuesday's announcement was a relief and she commended James for making a "difficult decision."
She said discussion about any changes at the airport will stop until at least next year while the airlines, aviation and city officials regroup and decide how to proceed.
"I definitely think the airport needs major renovations," Loar said. "Let's make it better, not tear it down and do what everyone else does. Kansas City loves its airport and they have said they want to keep it the way it is."
Councilwoman Jolie Justus, who led the City Council committee that studied the airline issue, said she agrees KCI no longer meets the needs of its airlines or customers.
"But I agree with the mayor that we cannot do this unless we have the confidence of the city," she said. "We want to make sure we get this right."