By Paul Thompson
May 3, 2016
KANSAS CITY, Missouri – Kansas City voters will not vote for a new airport in 2016, after all.
KCMO Mayor Sly James announced in a press conference at City Hall on Tuesday, May 3 that plans for an August vote on a new $1.25 billion single terminal airport will not move forward.
James cited internal polling numbers that showed staunch opposition to the plan as a primary reason for the delay, noting that he wasn’t willing to move forward with the single terminal proposal if it would divide the city.
“It’s clear that the city is not ready to move forward with the KCI conversation at this point,” said James at the 3:00 p.m. press conference. “In fact, less than 40% believe that it is a good idea to move forward with the new terminal – with the airlines paying for it along with the airport – at this time.”
The city polled 801 likely 2016 general election voters on the airport issue in late April. The poll found that while 63% believe Kansas City is heading in the right direction, 84% still view KCI favorably and only 39% would vote yes on an airport ballot question.
The polling data revealed opposition that was simply too much to overcome before an August vote. Still, James admitted that it was a difficult decision to pull the plug on the single terminal vote.
“For me, it was extremely hard,” said James. “I have not been one to ever walk away from a tough issue.”
James did not specify when the issue might ultimately appear before voters, but he didn’t rule out the possibility that it would re-emerge during his tenure. He noted that in the interim, the city will extend it’s current Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the airlines, which outlines their leases with the Aviation Department. Meanwhile, James said that Kansas City leaders will keep working diligently on the pressing issues of the metropolitan area.
“I’m going to continue to focus on the things that got me this job that I love so much,” said James. “Making government work better, adding good-paying jobs to the city, equipping every student that we can with a world-class education, and cutting down on the gun violence that still takes far too many lives in the city.”
After chairing the Airport Committee for the past nine months, 4th District Councilwoman Justus discussed the difficult decision to delay the single terminal ballot question, especially considering the overwhelming support of the airlines.
“The airlines felt so strongly about this that they were willing to pay for the terminal and back the debt incurred by the Aviation Department,” said Justus. “One of the hardest thing to do in leadership is to press pause when you see a plan that has so many upsides. But we want to make sure that we get this right, and we want the confidence of our city in the process.”
Although James stated his belief that the airlines will still conduct business in a professional manner, he acknowledged they were disappointed in the decision to pivot away from an imminent vote on a new single terminal airport.
“They really don’t understand how we got here, because in most instances, cities are clamoring for airlines to build new terminals,” he said.