Archive for May, 2017

As most of you probably know — because you have exhibited by your readership and comments here that you care deeply about your community — we had a major development yesterday in the long, difficult slog toward a new, single-terminal airport.

Mayor Sly James, City Manager Troy Schulte and City Council Aviation Committee Chairwoman Jolie Justus announced that the city had issued a “request for qualifications and proposals” (RFQ/P) for design, construction and private financing of a new terminal.

This was like the proverbial dam breaking open…in a good way. Until now, Burns & McDonnell, a local engineering and design firm, was hurtling along at record speed with a proposal to build and finance a new single terminal. At the wheel of the pace car was Sly James, who, until a few weeks ago, had wanted to jam the deal through the City Council in a matter of days.

Gratefully, the pace car has pulled down onto pit road, for refueling at the very least.

Today, all Kansas City area residents can exhale…And we can, and should, thank the “new” Kansas City Star editorial page and the editorial board members for this breakthrough.

It’s only been three weeks since editorial page writer Dave Helling got wind of the Burns and Mac deal and forced the mayor’s hand — forced him to rush down to the editorial board and lay out the framework of the deal he’d been cooking up with Burns and Mac.


Helling’s scoop (you don’t see many “scoops” on the editorial page) was a tremendous public service. If it didn’t slam the brakes on the process, it certainly put a large boulder on the tracks.

Since then, the editorial board has hammered relentlessly at the need for the city to slow down and to solicit proposals beyond that of Burns & McDonnell, which has made bountiful campaign contributions not only to the mayor but to every other City Council member.

The blaring headline on Sunday’s lead editorial cut to the heart of the matter: “Our KCI checklist: More details and alternative proposals needed.”

It went on to say:

We’d like to see a detailed comparison the private financing plan and a traditional public bond plan. And what will the design look like? AECOM (a California company that has expressed in the project), Burns & McDonnell and any other competitor should provide as many options as possible for the council and public to consider.


That is exactly what a responsible newspaper and its editorial board is supposed to do: Shine a strong light on issues that significantly impact the public, take a carefully considered stance and push like hell for elected officials to do what’s right.

Helling, who has written all but one of the recent, unsigned KCI editorials, told me in an email that not one member of the editorial board was in favor of the city giving the contract to Burns and Mac without seeking other proposals.

…Nothing could be bigger than how the city proceeds on a new airport, which will probably cost about $1 billion. It is the biggest single municipal project many of us will see  in our lifetimes, and it can’t be rushed through in a week, or two or three, and it can’t blithely be handed over to a local firm, no matter how qualified and/or well-intentioned that firm is.

I’ve said before I like Sly James and that he has been an effective leader. As a political novice with a first name that most wannabe politicians would eschew, he put together in 2011 the best grass-roots, local campaign I have ever seen.

But on the airport he allowed his frustration at years of being stiff armed to get the better of him. So, he threw down a trump card, and it backfired, triggering a fortnight of public confusion and opening himself up to harsh blowback from longtime critics. At the same time, as I’ve said before, the dust storm that blew up over the Burns and Mac deal has advanced the KCI debate beyond whether or not Kansas City needs a new single terminal. More and more, people are coming around to the realization that it is the way to go…It’s possible our mayor is crazy like a fox.

At any rate, the trump card is now back in the deck. Burns and Mac may still win out, but the public is going to see other proposals and, ideally, get a much clearer picture of three important components of a possible private deal: how much a new terminal will cost, how a private firm and its partners stand to profit, and how much money is in it for a private firm and its financial partners. 


Besides those three big questions, another that has drifted off in the backwash of the Burns and Mac proposal is what the new airport might look like.

On a project of this magnitude, what could be more important, at least initially, than the design? 

On that front, I fault The Star and the Aviation Department. The Aviation Department and the airlines have settled on a preferred design, but the city has not produced good, definitive representations. For its part, The Star has published several images of new-terminal and major-renovation options (there are two of each), but I’m almost certain it hasn’t run the preferred option since the Burns and Mac deal took front and center stage.

Last week, the Kansas City Business Journal published a guest column I submitted, and in that column, I said: “What we don’t have is a clear-cut…rendering that is visually appealing and prompts convenience-obsessed KCI fans to say, ‘That looks good, and it could be pretty convenient.’ “

When it comes time for a public vote, possibly in November, whatever proposal is put before the public will rise or fall just as much on an appealing (or unappealing) design as on price and other financial considerations.

With that, let me show you again (I first ran it on May 15) what the city calls NT-A, as in New Terminal-A.

As you can see, it’s in the shape of an “H” on its side. Airport gates — 35 of them — are configured around the top and bottom bars, with a walkway linking the two concourses. (The Aviation Department and the airlines want a terminal that can be expanded to 42 gates.)

The squat, blue rectangle below and attached to the bottom bar of the “H” is the new terminal building. The larger blue rectangle, slightly separated from the terminal building, represents a new 6,500-space parking garage. Below that, in the gray circle, would be a surface parking lot with an additional 1,940 parking spaces.

The circle to the left of the terminal and parking garage represents the existing Terminal B garage, which would be retained, primarily for employee parking.

…This is not an ideal image, by any means, and I don’t pretend that even the most talented campaign consultants could feature it in the election campaign. Last night, I urged Deputy Aviation Director Justin Meyer to develop bigger, better images with arrows and descriptions of various features. In a return email, he said, “We’re working in that direction.”

But even as skeletal as this image is, I can see the possibilities. When I look at it — with the benefit of Meyer’s explication of what is where — my reaction is, “Yes, that looks good…And it could be pretty convenient.”

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Since I’m having a spot of trouble convincing people to get on board my No. 1 crusade — getting a first-class airport for a first-class city — I think I’m going to start another one.

How about this: A first-class jail for a first-class county?

I’ve never seen the confinement areas of the Jackson County Detention Center, so I don’t know first-hand how serious the problems are at the jail. But from what I’ve been reading, it sounds bad.

The Star on Saturday published on its website an in-depth story by Mike Hendricks about the chronic problems at the nine-story facility at 13th and Cherry. (I expect that story to lead Sunday’s print edition.)

At the top of the story, setting the scene, Hendricks says:

Inmates and their families complain of crowding, broken plumbing, grime and fear of spending even a short amount of time within a facility where there is no assurance of safety. Assaults occur in areas where guards and cameras can’t see. The baddest of the bad have sometimes roamed freely to commit sexual assaults and beatings in the middle of the night.

During the past year, the county spent about $3 million on jail improvements, including replacing several hundred cell doors — doors that would no longer lock!

Now, it would be hard enough spending time in that, or any, jail but to be in a cell where the door doesn’t lock and “the baddest of the bad” are roaming around in the night….??? Holy crap.

Jackson County Detention Center

It’s estimated that a new jail would cost $200 million to $300 million. The recommendation is that, if the county should try to move ahead with a new, larger jail, it should be a single-level facility that allowed more direct supervision of inmates. A jail architect said modern jails also “are filled with natural light and incorporate color and softer, sound-absorbing materials like wood and carpet.”

And, no, I’m not talking about a Taj Mahal, just a place that’s tolerable. The vast majority of inmates at the detention center are just passing through — either awaiting trial or transfer to another facility. But they are often there for months, and they don’t deserve to be living in miserable conditions.

When I read that a new jail should be a single-level facility — which makes sense and is the style of most relatively new state and federal prisons — it struck me that if a facility like that was going to be built downtown, it would take up at least a full city block, maybe more.

I noted that in an email to Hendricks, and he responded that a new jail “most likely would not be downtown.” And that, he said would present another problem — how family members of inmates would get to and from a more removed jail on public transportation.

But that’s a problem for another day. The immediate problem is what to do about a badly deteriorated facility that opened in 1984 and was overcrowded from almost Day One.


When I came to Kansas City in 1969, the jail was on the top five floors of the Jackson County Courthouse. I covered the courthouse for the newspaper from 1971 to 1978 and saw that jail many times. My most vivid memory from it was following along as a prisoner who had been arraigned on a murder charge was hauled up to the 11th floor, all the while screaming, “I didn’t do it! You’ve got the wrong person! I’m innocent.” Those shrieks sounded like they came from the soul of an innocent man, and they shook me up. Sure enough, the next day the charge was dropped and he was released.

Here’s how Hendricks described that facility…

“That old jail was cold in the winter and broiling in the summer because, unlike the rest of the courthouse, it wasn’t air conditioned. And as it became increasingly crowded in the 1960s, with 500 inmates living in a space meant for 300, that jail became more broken down, filthy and beset by violence.”

History is now repeating itself. The jail that opened 33 years ago is broken down and beset by violence.

So now I ask you, if you can’t or won’t join me in Crusade No. 1, get on board Crusade No. 2.

I want to see a jail where the cell doors lock, the plumbing works and where the inmates live in humane conditions. Sure, there are some bad hombres in that jail, but the majority should not have to live, day after day, night after night, in a hell hole where the toilets don’t flush and “the baddest of the bad” go around buggering fellow inmates.

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In case you missed it, the Burns & McDonnell single-terminal proposal just moved from the “questionable” column to “fait accompli.”

Yesterday, two major developments took place that sealed the deal, although the City Council won’t officially vote on it until next month.

The first was Kansas City Star reporter’s Lynn Horsley’s online story that said Burns & McDonnell had, in recent years, made campaign contributions to Mayor Sly James and all 12 other council members. The second development was U.S. Rep. Sam Graves’ announcement that he was essentially endorsing the Burns and Mac proposal. Until yesterday, his public position had been steadfast opposition to city construction of a new single terminal.

It’s hard to say which of these developments was more critical to make this the proverbial “done deal.”

Let’s look at them one at a time…

Burns and Mac campaign contributions  

In the last quarter of 2013 alone, Horsley reported, Burns & McDonnell employees contributed more than $50,000 to James, including more than $37,000 at a single fund-raiser on Nov. 6 that year.

That’s eye-opening and helps explain why James has been joined at the hip with Burns & Mac on the proposed airport deal from the outset. (Burns and Mac quietly began developing its private-build proposal at least a few months ago, but the deal didn’t become public until two weeks ago, when The Star got wind of it, forcing the mayor to scurry down to 18th and Grand for a meeting with The Star’s editorial board.)

In regard to the single-terminal proposal, however, Burns and Mac’s contributions to James are less important than its generosity with the other council members…And what a smart move that was, the company and anticipating it would need the council’s help on any number of fronts.

Horsley specifically named five council members, besides James, who benefitted from Burns and Mac’s generosity before and after the 2015 city elections. They are Councilman Quinton Lucas ($5,125); Councilman Lee Barnes ($5,250); Councilwoman Teresa Loar ($3,625); Councilwoman Heather Hall ($1,575); and Councilwoman Katheryn Shields ($2,625).

After a two-hour-plus City Council discussion of the proposal last week, I could not have predicted with certainty that any of those five would vote for the Burns and Mac proposal. I still wouldn’t say that, strictly on the basis of these reported campaign contributions. But…combine those contributions with yesterday’s other development, and the picture comes into pretty clear focus.

The Graves endorsement

Graves at Truman State University farm last month

Graves, of course, is a Republican, and the Burns and Mac proposal is a classic Republican deal: A private company, not a government agency, takes full responsibility for construction and debt retirement, and also gets the chance to make a nice profit along the way. Exactly how the company profits — and to what extent — we don’t know yet; that hasn’t been spelled out.

Graves has never trusted the city. He hated the Power & Light District deal, which left the city paying millions of dollars a year to retire debt, and The Star noted yesterday that Graves has a distinct “lack of trust in the Kansas City Aviation Department.” The Burns and Mac deal would relegate the Aviation Department to a supporting role, instead of landlord and owner riding herd over every aspect of the project. That has to appeal to Graves.

Campaign contributions could also be a factor in the Graves endorsement. Both The Star and the Kansas City Business Journal reported Graves’ announcement, but neither reported what I found on the website ioncongress.com — that Burns and Mac contributed $7,500 to Graves, apparently in his 2016 re-election campaign.

Whatever prompted Graves to capitulate, the significance of his shift cannot be overrated. His district lies almost exclusively north of the Missouri River, and four City Council members come from north of the river. He is their congressional representative, and they would be very unlikely to take a stand in opposition to his.

The four Northland council members are Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner; Councilman Dan Fowler; and Loar and Hall.

Of those four, only Wagner, as I saw it, was a solid “yes” vote for the Burns and Mac proposal before yesterday. Now, I think, all four will vote for it.


Taking stock, the private-build proposal needs seven votes to pass. Last week, I saw only five solid votes for the proposal: Sly James; Scott Wagner; Jolie Justus, who heads the council’s Aviation Committee; and Kevin McManus and Scott Taylor, both of whom live in the 6th District, where Burns & McDonnell has its headquarters.

Now, we add in Fowler, Loar and Hall. That’s eight. That leaves Lucas, Shields, Barnes, Alissia Canady and Jermaine Reed unaccounted for. Where do they go? Well, if they decide to oppose the ordinance, they will be in the path of a snowball rolling down hill. Not a place you want to be. In addition, they all got campaign contributions from Burns & McDonnell.

It could end up being unanimous.

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Well, another devout Catholic has left us.

It’s true because it was right there in The Star’s obituaries today: “He was a devout Catholic…”

I’m not going to say who he was, not going to name him, because I don’t want to cast aspersions on any single person who claims — or whose family claims for him or her — the mantle of “devout Catholic.”

When I was a Catholic, the term didn’t particularly bother me. Can’t say I even paid any attention to it. The turning point came after I jumped ship — that was more than a decade ago — and became a Protestant, a member of the Disciples of Christ denomination, to be precise.

Then, I started wondering about the “devout Catholic” designation and gradually began recoiling at the words.

Some Catholics continue to think of themselves as part of a special religion because of what they see as a direct line from Jesus Christ to St. Peter to their parish priest. No zigzags, no historical breaks, just one seamless, clear line from Christ to them on their knees in the pews.

My father was among those who hewed to that school of thought…When hesitantly I broke the news to him in the mid-2000s that I had left The Church, he said, “Well, keep one foot in the door because it’s the one, true church from way back.”

Once at arm’s length from Catholicism, it began to register with me, partly through the obituaries, that within that “one, true church,” there was a more elite group, an upper crust, if you will. It was they who merited the tag “devout Catholic” in their obits.

Since developing this particular prejudice (mea culpa, mea culpa…), I have been looking in the obituaries for a “devout Lutheran” or a “devout Methodist” or a “devout Jew” or a “devout Muslim.” (These days, the latter designation could get you arrested, I suppose.)

Nary a one. And so it struck me that one of the benefits of my non-seamless spiritual journey is that I had landed among a more egalitarian crowd. That’s a good thing, right? Remember the first beatitude? Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Still, humility aside, I aspire to bring down the wall between the devout Catholics and the rest of us.

So, here’s how I want the first line of my obit to read…

“James C. (JimmyC) Fitzpatrick, 99, of Kansas City, died yesterday. He debuted as a Catholic but left the earth a devout Protestant.”

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I joined about 100 people today at a City Council business session that focused on Burns & McDonnell’s recently unveiled proposal to build a new terminal at Kansas City International Airport and to assume financial responsibility for the job, seemingly relieving the city of risk.

Along with two other Burns and Mac officials, C.E.O. Ray Kowalik made an energetic presentation. Kowalik promised to deliver the city “a convenient, modern terminal with more flight options.” And it would be built “with local labor using local contractors.”

Burns and Mac wants the council to approve a 12-page memorandum of understanding, which, if passed, would effectively bind the city to accept Burns and Mac’s proposal to build a new terminal for an as-yet-to-be-determined “guaranteed maximum price.”

Jolie Justus

At a council legislative session following the business session, Mayor Sly James and Councilwoman Jolie Justus introduced an ordinance that would approve the memorandum. Burns and Mac wants the council to act by Thursday, June 15, in order to prepare a set of “definitive agreements” that Kansas City voters would decide on in November.

Under the memorandum, the city would retain ownership of the airport. But for a term of 30 to 35 years, Burns and Mac, through a recently created development firm called Terminal Developer LLC, would lease the new-terminal construction area from the city. The memorandum calls for “approximately $85.2 million a year” in airport revenue (including airline landing fees and gate rentals) to go toward paying off whatever debt Burns and Mac incurred to build the new terminal.

…I am convinced Burns and Mac has good intentions in this deal, and no doubt it is a great company. I am proud they are in Kansas City, and you only have to look at their magnificent new headquarters — which they designed and built — at the juncture of Ward Parkway and Wornall to see they are capable of executing a big job. In addition, they are one of the top airport design and construction firms in the country.

Still, this deal give me the heebie-jeebies. Here are some of the big, unanswered questions I have:

:: How much of a voice would the public, or even the city, have in design of the terminal? The design is going to be every bit as critical as construction itself.

:: How much money would Burns and Mac stand to make? If $85.2 million a year (a staggering amount) would be going toward retiring the debt and $65 million, let’s say, is needed to retire the debt, does Burns and Mac keep the difference?

:: By ceding control to Burns and Mac, what assurance would the city have that the work was being done to specifications and that shortcuts weren’t being taken?

:: And what if, at the end, the terminal did not meet the city’s expectations or Burns and Mac’s early representations?

To help answer some of those questions, the City Council voted 11-2 at its legislative session today to spend up to $475,000 to hire two law firms to help the city review and negotiate a possible deal.

That was a very smart move. It was clear at the business session that several council members were still trying to get their arms around even some of the basic elements of the memorandum.

Only two council members — Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner and 6th District at-large Councilman Scott Taylor voted against hiring outside legal counsel. It appears to me Wagner and Taylor are already committed to the Burns and Mac deal and don’t think the expenditure of several hundred thousand dollars in legal fees is warranted or necessary.

It’s going to take seven council votes — a majority — to pass the ordinance. Early on, here is how the council vote is shaping up…

I think at least three other council members — a total of five at this point — are solidly behind the ordinance.

Besides Wagner and Taylor, Mayor James is unequivocally for it. It’s his baby, and a key element of his two-term legacy is at stake.

As I said above, Jolie Justus, chairperson of the council’s Aviation Committee, is a co-sponsor of the ordinance, so her vote is a given.

Councilman Kevin McManus, who, like Taylor, lives in the 6th Council District, where Burns and Mac has its headquarters, also is squarely behind it.

(Personal disclosure: I know Taylor and McManus and admire them greatly. In recent months, I helped lead a drive to raise city and private dollars to help restore the Meyer Circle Sea Horse Fountain, and Taylor and McManus approved $287,000 in capital improvements funds to help with the job. My Romanelli West neighborhood is very grateful for their assistance and support.)

It was hard to tell, from today’s comments, where many of the other council members stood.

I think there are at least two solid “no” voters — Teresa Loar and Heather Hall, both of whom live north of the river (not that that has anything in particular to do with their position).

I would not be surprised to see Katheryn Shields vote no. Outside the Council Chamber, she told me she her biggest reservation was that the city could borrow the money for about 3.5 percent, where Burns and Mac’s cost would be 5 percent or more.

Councilman Jermaine Reed sounded like a probable “no” vote. He called the memorandum of understanding “too vague” and “a non-starter.”

Like Reed, Councilman Lee Barnes Jr. expressed concern about the proponents’ attempt to get the council to quickly sign off on the memorandum of understanding.

Councilwoman Alissia Canady indicated she would be demanding a very high level of contract participation among minority- and women-owned businesses.

Councilman Dan Fowler said he liked the fact that, under the Burns and Mac deal, the city would incur no debt and there would be “no tax burden to our residents.”

One of the most animated council members was Quinton Lucas, who asked several pointed questions, including who would control the revenue flow — the city or the developer. The tentative answer was the city, but I think that remains to be seen. Before asking any questions, however, Lucas opened with these words, “I love the project!”

…When you think about it, that’s not definitive. Sure, he likes the project — most of us do — but does he like the Burns and Mac deal?

We’ll have to wait a few weeks to see how this deal unfolds and who, in the end, really likes it.

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The Washington Post and The New York Times have been taking turns landing haymakers on President Donald Trump’s exposed chin the last two days.

For anyone who loves journalism, it’s a BU-ti-ful thing, as former KC Star editor Mark Zieman, used to say.

On Monday, Post reporters Greg Miller and Greg Jaffe broke the story about Trump revealing highly classified information about the Islamic state to Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting. The killer quote from that meeting was Trump’s kid-in-a-candy-store exclamation: “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day.”

Yesterday, The Times dropped a blockbuster of its own when reporter Michael S. Schmidt reported that, at a private meeting in February, Trump had asked FBI director James Comey to shut down the federal investigation into former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn.

In the meeting with Comey, Trump produced another jaw-dropping quote. Referring to Flynn, he said to Comey: “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Whatever you think of Trump, you’ve gotta love this kind of reporting — and the fact that we in the United States place such high value on a free press. Imagine if this had happened in Turkey, a country spiraling down into autocracy. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would have every journalist in the country locked up. In Russia? Wouldn’t have happened. Putin already has the press firmly under his heel. No one would dream of writing such a story.

Another thing to be thankful for is that the people working for and around Trump are obviously very willing to rat him out. If Trump and a majority of Republicans in Congress are not yet willing to put country ahead of politics, it appears that quite a few White House employees are.

The Times’ Frank Bruni has an excellent column on that subject today. In it, he says:

This much leaking this soon in an administration is a powerful indication of what kind of president we have. He is so unprepared, shows such bad judgment and has such an erratic temper that he’s not trusted by people who are paid to bolster him and who get the most intimate, unvarnished look at him. Some of them have decided that discretion isn’t always the keeping of secrets, not if it protects bad actors. They’re right. And they give me hope.

Later, Bruni added: “Aides will suck up a whole lot for proximity to power, and partisans will make enormous compromises in the name of the team. But at the end of the day, they’re human. They have limits, dignity and the mobile phone numbers of dozens of reporters.”


Here’s a closer look at the reporters who broke those big stories…

Greg Jaffe went to The Post in 2009 from the Wall Street Journal, where he shared a Pulitzer Prize in 2000 for a series on defense spending. In introducing him to readers, The Post called him “one of the nation’s top journalists covering military affairs.” He has co-authored at least one book, “The Fourth Star,” about the careers of four prominent Army generals from 1970 through the Iraq war. In 2012, he was honored by the University of Missouri School of Journalism for a series of stories about the growing divide between the American military and civilian society after a decade of war in Afghanistan.

Greg Miller has worked for The Post since 2010. His current title is national security correspondent. Last November, a few days after the election, he reported that the intelligence community had “a sense of dread” about Trump’s impending presidency. Before going to The Post, Miller was a reporter for The Los Angeles Times for more than 15 years. He was among several Post reporters awarded the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of U.S. surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden. He was a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for a series of stories on the Obama administration’s counter-terrorism policies, and he co-authored of a book about Americans who interrogated prisoners captured in the war on terror. He has made reporting trips to countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kuwait and Serbia.

Greg Miller of the Washington Post, with a Post colleague


Michael S. Schmidt is one of The Times’ lead reporters on the federal and Congressional investigations into connections between Trump’s associates and the Russians. In March 2015, he broke the story that Hillary Clinton had exclusively used a personal email account when she was secretary of state. As a Times correspondent in Iraq in 2011, he uncovered a series of classified documents in a junkyard in Baghdad. The documents were testimony from Marines about a 2005 massacre in which Marines had killed 26 Iraqi civilians. Schmidt began working for The Times as a news clerk in 2005. In December 2007, he was made a staff reporter. In 2009, he broke the stories that David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and Sammy Sosa were among about 100 major league baseball players who tested positive for having used performance-enhancing drugs.


The Post, at least, has recorded tangible results from its big story. Glenn Kessler, the paper’s “fact checker,” said the paper’s story about Trump’s revelation of classified information broke the paper’s record for readers per second clicking on the article. Kessler said the newsroom broke into applause at the news of the new record.

I say The Post and The Times both deserve sustained applause from all Americans these days. Were it not for a free press, we would be no better than Russia or Turkey.

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I am worried about and, at the same time, fascinated by what might happen in regard to Kansas City International Airport.

Last week, when The Star broke the story about Burns & McDonnell’s stunning proposal to build a new single terminal at a guaranteed maximum price (to be determined) and to take on all the financial risk, I said the tectonic shift threatened to “hopelessly muddle the airport situation.”

That remains the case, but there is another, more optimistic, way this could unfold.

I didn’t come up with this myself; a wise friend, with whom I serve on our neighborhood association board, gets the credit.

When I was bemoaning the unexpected development, saying it very well could confuse Kansas City voters, he countered that the new proposal, while unconventional, might serve to snap the KCI debate out of its slumber. My friend said the new twist might flip people’s thinking from whether a single terminal should be built to how that will happen.

Under this theory, the new plan will wrench people away from the old argument — whether to abandon the 45-year-old horseshoe terminals — and rivet their attention on the new and provocative question: Should a new single terminal be built privately, with Burns and Mac taking the reins, or should the city do it the conventional way, taking and awarding bids and financing construction by issuing revenue bonds?

My friend’s theory is valid, I think. As time has passed and KCI has continued to deteriorate, “the leave-my-KCI-alone” argument — officially led by head-in-the-sand Councilwoman Teresa Loar — has steadily lost credibility. If you go up to KCI and pass the shelved-and-closed Terminal A and then plant yourself in one of those claustrophobic, boring bullpens waiting to board your plane, you have to be thinking, “There must be a better way.”

It is becoming increasingly apparent the better way is a single terminal, with a single security checkpoint that opens up into a pleasant and airy main concourse, which, in turn, offers a variety of food and shopping options. Just like every other modern U.S. airport.

This rendering, provided by the Kansas City Aviation Department, shows what the interior of a new single terminal might look like, just past the central security checkpoint.

…You know, sometimes it’s OK to do what other cities are doing. Just because we did it differently with our airport in 1972 and because that novel approach worked for many years doesn’t mean it’s wise to stick with what was good way back when. No, it’s time to get with the times.

If it was up to me, I’d probably prefer to see the city go the conventional route, with the Aviation Department being in charge of construction, and city-issued revenue bonds being retired with airport revenue. That way, any and all firms — including contractor JE Dunn and the architectural and design firm BNIM — would have a shot at participating.

But I could also support Burns and Mac’s proposal, depending on the final terms of a deal…I just want to see this project get off first base, where it’s been for way too long, and start chugging toward home plate.


So far, in-depth reporting has been in short supply about the deal between Burns and Mac and the city, particularly regarding how Burns and Mac stands to make its money on this deal.

One reason for the haziness is many details have yet to be worked out. Another, however, is that The Star — the go-to source for authoritative and thorough reporting on major local developments of all kinds — has simply not gone deep enough.

The Star has had two or three decent straight-reporting stories, and there was a good editorial last Friday, expressing concern about the secret way in which the deal was arrived at and demanding openness from this point forward. What has been lacking is a close look at the basic terms of the deal, as set forth in a 12-page memorandum of understanding that has been out for several days.

The memorandum doesn’t spell this out, but it appears that where Burns and Mac stands to make its profit is in the difference between whatever revenue is generated by airport operations and the yearly amount Burns and Mac will need to build the terminal and pay off loans it takes out.

This is a possible single-terminal design — in the shape of an “H” on its side. This rendering, provided by the Aviation Department, shows 35 gates, but the number could go up to 42, under the Burns and Mac proposal.

The memorandum is a preliminary document, not legally binding. Should the City Council approve it, a more comprehensive and legally binding set of “definitive agreements” would likely follow. But the terms of the memorandum help bring into clearer focus the elements of the “spread” between revenue and debt payments.

Here are some of the memorandum’s basic provisions:

:: Burns and Mac would create a development entity — a company — that would enter into a 30 to 35-year agreement with the city.

:: During that period the city would lease to the development company that part of the airport that Burns and Mac was working on. The city would continue to own the airport, and it would sub-lease and operate the new terminal.

:: Burns and Mac would invest some of its own money in the project and would borrow the rest. It would then proceed to build, over four years, a 750,000-square-foot the terminal at the site of the existing Terminal A for a guaranteed maximum price. An earlier memorandum between the city and the airlines placed the price tag at $964 million, and Burns and Mac is evaluating that. Conceivably, it could set the price higher, lower or on that mark.

:: The city Aviation Department, which now receives all revenue from airport operations, would redirect that revenue to the developer for the duration of the contract. That is an important point: The development firm apparently would get all airport revenue for 30 to 35 years. Those revenue sources would include federal and state (if any) grants, airplane refueling fees and revenue from parking, concessions and car rentals.

:: For the airlines’ part, they would be required to pay an amount of money, which, when combined with all other airport revenue, would be about $85.2 million a year. That amount would be used to repay the project financing. The amount could be adjusted up or down — up if airport operational costs rose and down if any federal or state grants were awarded.

:: The airlines, not the city, would be required to make up any shortfall between revenue and the amount Burns and Mac needed to pay off its investment. The airlines, of course, will raise ticket prices to offset their increased costs.

:: Burns and Mac would keep the difference between revenue (approximately $85.2 million) and whatever amount it needed to retire the debt.

…A lot of elements still need to be worked out, and there are many questions. The debate could be noisy. Let’s just hope it concludes with Teresa Loar’s position — retaining the three-terminal set-up — getting dumped once and for all.

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Just when I thought Kansas Citians might be warming up to the idea of building a new single terminal at Kansas City International Airport, along comes Mayor Sly James with an alternative that was cooked up in secret and threatens to hopelessly muddle the airport situation.

The Star is reporting tonight that the Kansas City-based engineering firm of Burns & McDonnell (commonly known as Burns and Mac) “has proposed to privately build and finance a new single terminal at Kansas City International Airport, as a way to finally garner voter approval and get the controversial airport project done.”

This reminds me of being in the Army, with the platoon going steadily along in one direction, when the drill sergeant suddenly barks, “Right face! Harch!”

The idea of the city handing over to a private company the main role and responsibility of the city’s Aviation Department — providing our metro area with a good airport — strikes me as abandonment of  duty…Not to mention throwing a sharp-breaking curve ball at area residents.

I understand the thinking behind this. Many area residents have been nonplussed by plans to eliminate the 45-year-old horseshoe-shaped terminals at KCI and replace them with a new structure that many people are convinced would not be as “convenient” as the existing set-up. Many people also don’t understand that a new terminal would not be built with general city funds; revenue bonds would be issued and then retired with money generated solely from airport operations, including airline gate rentals, parking and concession fees, and a surcharge on airline tickets.

In the face of strong resistance and taxpayers’ lack of understanding, James and other advocates of this new plan would like to relieve the city of all risk and just get on with the job, even if it means making a deal that involves not taking bids. Their pitch will be, as The Star put it, to emphasize that if Burns & McDonnell were to build the terminal with its own money, “Kansas City would issue no bonds and bear no taxpayer risk if the airport failed to generate the revenues needed to pay off the construction and other costs, including overruns.”

Under the Sly James/Burns and Mac plan, the city would own the airport; it just wouldn’t go through the customary process of soliciting, analyzing and awarding bids and then — if voters approved — issuing city-backed revenue bonds to finance the project. Burns & McDonnell would assume the risk, in return for the chance to make a very handsome profit on the design and construction contract.


It is unclear how long this proposal has been in the works, but it appears the idea was to bring the proposal to the Kansas City Council quickly and get the council to approve a public vote to endorse the new plan in November.

A Kansas City Star editorial says the original schedule “called for submitting the agreement for City Council consideration on May 18, with a final council vote coming as soon as May 25.”

It appears that Star reporters caught drift of the plan, prompting Mayor James and other advocates to hastily call for a meeting Thursday with The Star’s editorial board.

The editorial board was very circumspect. Its unsigned editorial, posted Thursday evening, said:

City Hall wants the voters’ trust. It has started one of the most critical campaigns in city history with closed-door dealings that effectively cut Kansas Citians out of the process. That is just wrong. The airport debate must be open, fair, complete, fact-based and inclusive. Supporters of a new terminal may get there eventually. They have started on the wrong foot.

That’s got to make James and other supportive council members cringe. Having reacted so strongly so soon, The Star’s editorial board — whose support I think would be essential to voter approval of any plan — seems unlikely to endorse this plan, regardless of how it is stroked and fine tuned.

Here’s another observation I have on this gambit: It smacks of desperation on the part of Mayor James.

James has run a very erratic course on KCI from the outset. If you’ll recall, he and former Aviation Director Mark Van Loh came out of the box gangbusters a few years ago on plans for replacing the 45-year-old, horseshoe-shaped terminals with a new single terminal expected to cost about $1 billion. When the public blanched at the prospect of losing its “convenient” curb-to-gate airport, tapped on the brakes.

The mayor then appointed a 20-plus member, “blue ribbon” committee to study the matter, and the committee concluded a new single terminal was the way to go. Gingerly, the mayor put his foot back on the gas pedal, but last year along came a public-opinion survey showing a large majority of Kansas City voters still didn’t want any part of a new design. The mayor pulled back for the second time…and now this.

A sure sign of his desperation, in my view, is a quote that appeared in The Star’s story tonight. If the City Council authorized a vote on the Burns and Mac plan and voters rejected it, James told a reporter, “we’re screwed.”

To me that sounds like the mayor is actually saying this new plan, pulled like a rabbit from a hat, is the last, best option for getting a new airport, and if voters don’t see the light, well “screw them.”

And the thing is, even if the City Council approves a November election, a majority probably will vote no. The rule of thumb is that when voters are confused, they vote “no.” I thought the KCI situation was starting to become clearer, as the arc lights glared on the KCI issue and people continued going to the airport and seeing the advancing deterioration. I thought patience, voter education and a well-organized campaign would carry the day.

But now, James is suddenly directing voters’ attention toward the sky, saying: “Look…It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s an airport…Free!”


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If you will indulge me, we have some unfinished Derby business.

I have a couple of 30-year-old-plus photos to show you.

Both photos were sent to me today by one of our good friends in Louisville, Marcie Blakeney. Marcie, a retired teacher, has hosted a Kentucky Oaks Day brunch the last several years, and she and I played golf one day last week in Louisville.

Marcie didn’t know the years these photos were taken, but Patty and I believe we figured it out.


This one, of Marcie and me, was taken at the 1986 Derby, when Marcie’s husband back then, John Blakeney, got us Third Floor Clubhouse seats through the company he was working for, Brown-Forman distillery. You can tell we are relatively high up by the crowd down below. I remember joking that day about the people in “steerage” on the lower floors…Funny thing, though, ever since that Derby I’ve been with the unwashed masses in steerage.

Another thing I remember about that Derby is the even-money favorite was a horse named Snow Chief, and I really believed in him. I don’t remember how much I bet on him — probably $20 to $30 — but I was convinced he was going to win.

Our box extended out over the grandstand, and we had a spectacular view of the track. When the horses came by us the first time, entering the first turn, Snow Chief was running close to the front with a few other horses. The horses were flying and my heart was racing. That fast start should have given me pause, however, because it’s not very often (this year being an exception) that the speed “holds up,” as they say, and a front runner stays in front for the entire mile and a quarter.

Sure enough, Snow Chief began slowing down as the race progressed, and he ended up finishing 11th in a 16-horse field. The winner was Ferdinand, who went off at odds of 18 to 1 and paid $37.40 on a $2 win bet.

Snow Chief came back to win the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes, two weeks later in Baltimore. In that race, he beat Ferdinand by four lengths. Although he didn’t run in the third leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, Snow Chief was voted champion 3-year-old horse of 1986.

…Now, Photo No. 2.

That’s Patty on the left. She thinks the photo was taken in 1984, the year before we married.

A seamstress, Patty calculated the year with this reasoning: “I was still living at home when I knitted that sweater and was finishing it in a hurry to wear to the Derby. We were sitting on bleachers, not in a box when I wore that outfit.”

Indeed, as you can see, we were down low…in steerage.

The other people in the photo, from right to left, are John Blakeney; my dear Louisville friend Bill Russell; and Bill’s wife Kathy Russell.

John and Marcie got divorced several years later, and so did Bill and Kathy. (Marcie has not remarried; Bill has.)

The winner that year was a horse named Swale, a beautiful colt whom Patty fell in love with as he came out on the track that day. She bet him and won money. (Patty has good instincts and has picked a relatively high percentage of Derby winners — much higher than I.) Swale went off at odds of 7-2 and paid $8.80 to win.

Swale went on to run in the Preakness Stakes and finished a disappointing seventh. But he returned to form three weeks later in the Belmont Stakes in New York and won.

Then, eight days after the Belmont — June 17, 1984 — Swale collapsed and died while being taken back to his stall following a bath.

That night, as I recall, before Patty and I had learned of Swale’s death, we were at the New Stanley Bar in Westport, and a friend gave us the bad news. Tears immediately filled Patty’s eyes. I remember the friend telling me later Patty must be a tender-hearted person because she cried over Swale. Eight months later we were married.

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Well, it was another boring Kentucky Derby — fifth straight year the favorite has won — but another fabulous Derby Week in my hometown.

I got to Louisville Tuesday night and had several days to visit friends and relatives, and even got in a golf game with a friend at her new country club.

Most hotels in the metro area require a three-day stay (or at least charge a three-day minimum) for Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, and many hotels charge several thousand dollars for that privilege.

Last year, thanks to Patty’s business — manufacturing robes and other garments primarily for women ministers — I came across an excellent alternative to the hotel shakedown. Then and this year I stayed at a lodge on the grounds of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, conveniently located between downtown and a bustling area called St. Matthews.

The lodge has a few dozen rooms and is open year round. But the seminary doesn’t advertise it, and a lot of people just don’t know about it. I had a nice room (I was on my own) with two twin beds, a non-high-def TV and, of course, my own bathroom. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the lodge had a complimentary buffet breakfast, Derby themed, with “Start” and “Finish” lines.

Last year, it seemed like 10 to 12 rooms were occupied on the Big Three days; this year only six to eight were in use. For Tuesday and Wednesday, the rate was $90, including tax. For Thursday, Friday and Saturday the rate was $277, including tax…Plus, there is no three-night minimum charge.

The only distraction the entire week was the weather, which was plenty foul. The rain chased me across Missouri and arrived in Louisville on Thursday. It rained most of that day and most of the night, then it rained all day Friday, significantly knocking down attendance at Churchill Downs for Friday’s Kentucky Oaks, the big race for 3-year-old fillies.

I had intended to go to the track Friday after a brunch with friends, but when I left the brunch about 1:30 p.m., it was raining steadily and the gauge in my car showed the outside temperature as 49 degrees. Not a fit day for man nor beast, I determined. So, I headed back to “Laws Lodge” and then went over to the home of one of my cousins for pizza, iced tea and conversation. It was my best bet of the week.

Of course, nothing short of a snowstorm was going to keep me from the track on Derby Day, and once again I got lucky outside the track, getting a First Floor Clubhouse seat for $150, about $50 less than face value.

Despite three rounds of afternoon rain — one of which lasted about 30 minutes — the crowd was upbeat. In fact, many people are downright giddy, so happy are they to be at such a historic and storied event. I started going back for the Derby in 1981 and have attended the vast majority of Derby Days since then. During that time, I’ve gotten over the giddiness but still whoop and holler when the first horse steps onto the track before the Derby and the University of Louisville Marching Band strikes up “My Old Kentucky Home.”

When the horses stepped onto the track about 6:15 p.m. Louisville time Saturday, the sun was, indeed, shining bright in my old Kentucky home. Like I said above, it was a boring race — to me, anyway — with the 9-2 favorite, Always Dreaming, running up front, or close to the front, all the way around the track and not being challenged down the stretch. I bet a horse called McCraken — named after a small town in Kansas — and he finished eighth.

There were two particularly interesting in-race developments, neither of which I was aware of until the race was over. (From the first and second floors of Churchill Downs it’s difficult to see much of anything taking place on the track, although there is a big TV screen.) The horse running from the No. 2 post position, Thunder Snow, began bucking a couple of strides out of the gate and refused to run. Maybe he didn’t like the sloppy track, but it was strange. He didn’t finish.

The second unusual thing was that Lookin at Lee, the horse coming from the No. 1 post position — usually a killer because the outside horses often angle inside and squeeze the inside horses — skimmed the rail all the way around the track and finished a game second to Always Dreaming. Lookin at Lee went off at 33 to 1 and paid $26.60 on a $2 place (second place) bet.

…I know you’ve been waiting for the photos. Here they are.


Approaching Queen Avenue for a block-long walk to the track

The Queen Avenue residents have their own party. Car parking is big business.

Just inside the racetrack gate off Queen.

Ah, that track and those Twin Spires.

A few nice hats, a killer suit and a baby boy undoubtedly taking in his first Derby

The horses entering the first turn in a turf (grass) race two races before the Derby

It was hard for me to tell which was more beautiful, the hat or the woman.

In the betting line, I happened across a guy — Tom from Indiana — with a hat identical to mine — blue straw, from Goorin Bros.

Now, there’s a cat in a hat.

Never too rainy for a beer, at least on Derby Day

Waiting out the rain…grimly

A cigar helped make the rain go by more quickly for this guy.

Mint juleps eased the pain, too.

The brick walkways aren’t a bit enchanting after a downpour.

I was in a six-person box with the Richardson family, whom I got to know when I arrived with the ticket I’d bought outside the track. This is Stephanie, who was totally prepared for the rain.

The jet setters populate the fourth, fifth and sixth floors. The fourth and fifth floors each have a “millionaires row” section. The fifth floor houses the “Finish Line Suites.”

Churchill has long employed a color-coded armband system to route people to their respective seating areas — and keep them there. The rule is you can always go lower, such as from millionaires row to the grandstand or clubhouse, but you can’t go higher. People like me — and this woman — with red arm bands could go no higher than the First Floor Clubhouse.

A moment of quietude inside the clubhouse

Great tie, but the shirt??? C’mon, man!

Here’s Stephanie again (second from right) with her father Rick; sisters Ryan (left) and Ashley (middle); and Ryan’s husband Jordan. The Richardsons are originally from the Cincinnati area, but only Rick lives there now. Stephanie lives in Louisville; Ashley in Columbus, Ohio; and Ryan and Jordan in Atlanta. (Thanks, Richardsons, for a fun afternoon and welcoming me to your box!)

The Derby Post Parade

The Derby horses head into the first turn.

Just like that, it’s over and people are in the parking lot, waiting for family members, friends and fares.

And it’s back down Queen Avenue to the cars.

It could take a long time for that block to get back to normal this year.

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