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Posts Tagged ‘Kansas City International Airport’

That’s it…the headline, I mean.

That’s the slogan — christened here today on your favorite blog — for the bond-issue campaign (God willing) that will determine if Kansas City builds a new single terminal at KCI or sticks with the one we’ve had for more than 40 years.

I’m hereby giving Pat Gray, Steve Glorioso, Pat O’Neill and other political consultants carte blanche to appropriate the slogan, which, I think, says all voters need to know about why a new, single terminal is a good idea…

“Soar into the future.”

***

OK, so the campaign isn’t going to be the slam dunk I first thought it was going to be. A Save KCI group has formed, and it has a web site. Letters to the editor tilt toward maintaining the status quo, and Mayor Sly James now seems to be hedging his bets.

A front-page story in The Star yesterday said that James supports “moving forward with a study on the merits of a new terminal.” That’s a long way from being unequivocal.

Here’s what he should say…

“This is what we need, Kansas Citians; this an opportunity for us to keep pace — as did with the Power & Light District and Sprint Center — with other top-tier cities. This is an opportunity to build a 21st Century terminal that will be more efficient and will make travelers open their eyes when they arrive in our city.”

That’s what he should say, anyway, if he wants to be remembered like former Mayor Kay Barnes, who gave us Power & Light and the Sprint Center. Or like the late former Mayor Ilus W. Davis, who moved air travel out of Downtown Airport and gave us a major-league airport in Platte County.

(A quick digression: Remember how “convenient” Downtown Airport was?)  

For the campaign to succeed, it’s going to need James’ strong backing. He has built up tremendous credibility with the public. I think that’s great; that’s what enables a mayor to lead. But if James equivocates on this, or if he throws in the towel, Kansas City is hosed. Another opportunity to modernize KCI probably wouldn’t come along for another decade…at least.

***

Earlier, when I put in the mayor’s mouth the words “make travelers open their eyes,” I meant it almost literally.

Look around the next time you go to KCI…Most people are trudging around soporifically, in the dungeon that is Terminal B, looking for someplace decent to get something to eat, other than a day-old croissant or a three-day-old sandwich.

Then, watch those who are “shopping” for items for friends and relatives back home. They flip through the KU, K-State and MU caps and shirts at the news stands, and they quickly move on.

Folks, this place is not far from being a dump!

The only difference between KCI and Kemper Arena is that Kemper Arena was always a dump. It held us back on the sports front for many years. Now, with Sprint Center, we’ve got one of the most successful arenas in the country, and when we have a big concert or basketball tournament down there, the streets, bars and restaurants are filled with happy people. A beautiful sight it is, if you love Kansas City and want it to rank up there with St. Louis, Denver, Indianapolis and Louisville.

Denver_International_Airport_terminal

Denver International Airport

The important thing to realize is that the “convenience” factor, which opponents of a new, single terminal continuously harp on, is an extremely narrow view. Yes, you can get to your airline fairly easily at KCI, but once you go through one of the security checkpoints, you are a prisoner in a smaller holding area where about all you can get are yogurt cups, crackers and bottled drinks.

I was in one of the holding areas recently, and to get to the restrooms I had to walk from one end of the enclosed area to the other and then down at least one long flight of steps. Convenient? Hell, no! A lot of people, like me, don’t have the knees they once did…You should never have to go down a flight of steps to go to a restroom at an airport.

***

Here’s the best thing about a bond election that would have to be held before the city could proceed: If voters approve (by a simple majority), the bonds would be retired solely with revenue generated by the Kansas City Aviation Department.

A lot of people don’t understand this, I fear. They hear that the new terminal is going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and their knee-jerk reaction is, “We can’t afford it!”

Not so. Airport-construction bonds would not rely at all on the city’s General Fund, that is, on taxpayer dollars.

The Aviation Department is one of two city departments, along with the Water and Pollution Control, that do not tap the General Fund. They are called “enterprise departments'” because they pay for their operations, totally, with fees they charge.

In the case of the Water and Pollution Control Department, it’s the water and sewer bills we get in the mail every month. In the case of the Aviation Department, it’s fees charged to airlines and other businesses that rent space at the airport. The department’s largest source of income is airline “landing fees” — usually so much money for each 1,000 pounds.

I want to emphasize this point about how the bonds would be financed…Here it is again, straight from yesterday’s Kansas City Star:

“The bonds would be backed by aviation funds — paid by the airlines, passengers, tenants and other users — not general taxpayer dollars.”

No tax dollars…No, it’s not free, but the airlines and other users are paying, and they’re willing to pay because they know it will pay off for them in the long run.

***

Once again, I’m going to quote U.S. Rep. and former Mayor Emanuel Cleaver, who, I’m convinced, got Kansas City focused on the future when he was mayor, after a long period of belly-button gazing.

Here’s what Cleaver used to say — always in an insistent tone of voice:

“This is not some podunk town along I-70. This is Kansas City!”

People, it’s time to cut bait on the existing KCI, with its sodden, antiquated terminals.

Don’t look back; don’t be nostalgic. The KCI of the 70s, with its gleaming, parquet floors and its fresh, clean look, is a thing of the past. Look ahead; let’s Soar into the Future…

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Seventeen months ago, I wrote this about Kansas City International Airport:

“KCI is the dullest, dreariest major airport I’ve ever seen, and it’s horribly inefficient as far as check-in, security and concessions. A move to a single terminal — an inevitability — can’t happen soon enough for me.”

In that blog, I also said, “A new, all-in-one terminal would inject energy into Kansas City, just as construction of the Power & Light District energized downtown.”

Five readers commented on that blog, and each of them defended the existing three-terminal design — which is now nearly 40 years old — because of its efficiency.

Now, if you happened to read Lynn Horsley’s excellent, front-page story about KCI in Sunday’s Kansas City Star, you’ll know that the existing KCI’s days are numbered.

Yes, folks, quaint and cozy Kansas City Insipid Airport is on the way to becoming a trucking or freight terminal and a facility “for businesses needing ample parking and airport access.”

What’s the matter with KCI?

For starters, it’s dull and dark, and its retail and food options are pathetic.

Oh, and did you know that because of its layout, with no central security point and no “spokes” to gate areas, probably hundreds of thousands of dollars a year are wasted on excess security people and other personnel who need to be deployed throughout three different terminals?

But here’s the clincher: In terminal A, only eight of 27 gates are being used. In Terminal C, only 12 of 24 gates are being used. In Terminal B, meanwhile, where Southwest Airlines holds sway, 20 of 24 gates are in use.

As Horsley aptly put it, “Terminals A and C sometimes resemble ghost towns.”

That’s ridiculous. If we want to remain a major-league city in every respect, we must have a modern terminal — one that is not only efficient but hums with activity and sends a signal that you have arrived (or are leaving) a place that holds out the prospect of activity and excitement.

As usual, U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver gets the picture. One role of airports, he told Horsley, is to function as “glamorous ports of entry into a community.”

Mark VanLoh, city aviation director, has a clear view, too. “The situation with the three terminals is getting worse. It’s a mess…It (a new terminal) is going to happen regardless of whether our citizens want it to happen.” He estimates that a new terminal will open within 10 years.

Plans are for the new terminal, which would cost $1 billion to $2 billion, to be located south of the existing airport on city-owned land. It would use the same runways, but the terminal would be four miles closer to people arriving from the south — the direction that the vast majority of airport users come from.

The new terminal would be about 700,000 square feet, compared to the current terminals’ 1.2 million square feet. The reduction, Horsley said, would mean “big savings on utilities, while still accommodating 15 million passengers or more per year.”

And that bulging price tag? No tax increase necessary. “The money…would come from federal aviation dollars, the airlines themselves and taxes and fees paid by airline customers,” The Star’s story said.

The Aviation Department is one of two “enterprise” departments, along with the water and pollution control, that pays for itself through customer fees.

Those among us who are having trouble giving up the “curb-to-gate-is-best” philosophy need to think this through and consider what we want our city to be in the future. Do we want to continue being a destination city, like Denver, St. Louis and Indianapolis, or do we want to be an also-ran, falling farther behind other major cities with newer, first-class airport terminals.

Jerry Orr, the aviation director in Charlotte, NC, where the airport serves nearly 40 million passengers a year, told a visiting contingent from the KC chamber of commerce this fall that with a new terminal Kansas City could get more direct, international flights.

In other words, KCI could actually be an international airport, deserving of its name.

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Today, JimmyC is taking a break and turning over the controls to former Kansas City Star reporter Mike Rice. Mike worked at The Star from 1988 to 2008, when he was laid off. At the time of the World Trade Center disaster, one of Mike’s “beats” was Kansas City International Airport. Yesterday, he felt compelled to compile his recollections of that day. His story follows.

***

I woke up early on Sept. 11, 2001, because I had to walk from my house in Waldo to the Firestone store at 75th and Wornall to pick up my car. On the day before, one of the front tires blew out as I was parking at Calvary Lutheran School’s daycare center to drop off our son, Jeremy.

Mike Rice

It was sunny out and walking the half-mile or so to the Firestone actually put me in a good mood for a change.  2001 had been a very rough year, particularly in my wife Catherine’s family. In January, her father died suddenly from a heart attack at age 60, and on the Fourth of July her brother’s 18-month-old daughter got extremely ill and died a few hours later in the emergency room of a Leavenworth hospital. Our 5-year-old son, Nathan, had just started kindergarten at St. Elizabeth School and was having a tough time adjusting. He had gone to pre-school and day care at Calvary and was now separated from friends who had been with him since infancy.  But upon picking up our 1991 Chevy Lumina with its two new tires, I had a sense that life was looking up despite the tragedies and periods of adjustment that we were going through.

I got home, showered and got dressed for work. I was assigned to The Star’s Northland bureau. My beats were Kansas City International Airport and three municipalities — Gladstone, North Kansas City and the ever-growing northland portion of Kansas City, MO. It was Tuesday so I needed to spend the morning finishing a story for the paper’s weekly Neighborhood News edition, which came out every Wednesday.

I dropped the boys off. Jeremy was a few days away from turning a year old. It was 8 o’clock or so. I needed a soda fix so I stopped at our home on 72nd Terrace to get a Dr Pepper. I still felt a sense of life returning to normalcy. Then I got back in the car and turned on the radio.

***

Why I had KMBZ 980 AM on, I can’t remember. But I did, and reporter Noel Heckerson (now retired) was talking about breaking news from New York City: A second aircraft had hit the World Trade Center. Both towers had been hit. Holy shit!

My commute to work was long, as my office was at Barry Road and North Oak Trafficway. The Bruce R. Watkins Drive downtown link had not opened yet, which made the trip even longer. I listened to the reports of heavy smoke coming out of both towers and the speculation that there could be multiple casualties. As I passed downtown and crossed the Missouri River, speculation was growing that this could be some kind of attack. I was starting to get scared, and it seemed like it was taking forever to get to the office.

As I drove on U.S. 169 past Englewood Road, Heckerson announced that an aircraft had slammed into the Pentagon. There was absolutely no doubt now that, for the first time in 60 years, our country was under attack. I wanted to put the pedal to the metal but police constantly had speed traps on 169.

Finally, around 8:40, I got to the office. In the meeting room, the advertising folks hovered around the television. That was my first viewing of the burning towers. I went into the bureau chief’s office where there was another television. Several other people were in there already. We watched in absolute horror and disbelief. Then my pager went off. An editor in the downtown office had sent me a text instructing me to go up to the airport — pronto. Before I headed out, however, I caught another glimpse of the TV footage. One of our advertising execs told me that the World Trade Center had just collapsed. It was at that point where I said to everyone, “We’re going to war.” It turned out that I was right.

***

I headed off to KCI. I turned on the radio. A plane had crashed in Pennsylvania. Perhaps, I thought, someone had forced down the plane. Reports said all air traffic was being grounded. That meant that numerous transcontinental flights were probably being diverted to KCI. It was going to be a long day.

As I approached KCI, I saw a crescent-shaped contrail, a mark that planes were being diverted. I don’t remember which terminal I went to but believe it was the one where United was. I had never seen this airport so crowded. I began interviewing travelers, the few who weren’t on their cell phones trying to find out what the hell was going on.

I did not have a cell phone back then so I had to call my editors the old-fashioned way — the pay phone. I learned that The Star (which had become a morning paper about a decade earlier) was going to produce a special afternoon edition, so I had to interview people, call another reporter and dictate information to him.

Emotional scenes were playing out in the terminal: Passengers hugging airline employees, passengers trying to book hotel rooms, some speculating that another big city was coming under attack and others just completely bewildered. Some of the travelers that I spoke to said they were going to rent cars to drive home.  One guy I talked to was from Babylon, NY. He had just gotten off the phone with his son, who lived in Cincinnati. The son told him that he was going to get in his car and drive to Kansas City to pick him up and drive him back to New York.  That vignette was one of the few of mine that made the printed edition.

***

A KCI concourse

I went over to a press conference at the Kansas City Aviation Department around 11 a.m. One department official had a hand-held GPS device that showed a map of the United States and a handful of dots. The dots represented the number of planes in the air. Normally, the map was filled with those dots.

By noon, 89 planes were parked on the runway at KCI. Some were parked at the TWA overhaul base.  I went back to the bureau where I typed up all the facts and quotes that I had gathered. I stepped into the bureau chief’s office to catch a peek at the ongoing news coverage. By now, the country had learned how Middle Eastern terrorists had overtaken the planes they were on by stabbing the crew with box cutters.  It was getting more horrifying by the hour.

By mid-afternoon, rumors had started that gas prices were shooting up. At a Star-Mart across the street from us, cars were lining up. My God! People were panicking, and that is never good.

I went back to the airport around 5 p.m. And it was there that I saw what will stay with me until the day I die.

Five o’clock in the afternoon is typically a bustling time at the airport. But it was empty. All the stranded passengers had left. They went to hotels, got rental cars and headed home, or got picked up by good Samaritans.

Huge 767 jets — something you don’t see much at KCI — sat on the tarmac. The only vehicles on the circular drives outside the terminals were some police cars and a TV news truck. I went inside one of the terminals. The only person inside was a janitor who was waxing the floor with a buffing machine. I went back outside. It was downright spooky and, I dare say, apocalyptic.

Outside one of the terminals, I came across a man named Greg Simpson, of Ransom, KS. He was waiting for his father to pick him from Hays. He was to have flown to Cedar Rapids for a trade show in Illinois. “This shows what can (bring) this country to a halt,” he told me.  That quote ended the article about the stranded passengers at KCI that appeared in The Star the next day.

***

After that, I drove to The Star newsroom downtown where management had bought barbecue for its staff because of the long day.  Reporter Mike Mansur and I had our by-lines on the story in which Simpson’s quote appeared. I was proud to have been part of the news team that helped bring readers a local perspective to that tragic day. Needless to say, I was going to be very busy for the next few weeks. But, at that moment, I was drained and wanted to go home.

At home, Catherine and her sister were in the living room trying to get Jeremy to walk. He finally started walking eleven days later, which happened to be his first birthday. Nathan’s day at school was a little better. I’m not sure how much about that awful day was sinking into him. After putting the kids to bed, I went downstairs and watched the non-stop reports on TV. That was the first I had seen the horrifying images of the planes slamming into the towers, people jumping to their deaths and the towers coming down.

***

Ten years have passed. And, sadly, our nation has not recovered from the horrible events of that day. Sept. 11 gave a misguided presidential administration the opportunity to run amok. It allowed a right-wing propaganda network, along with a cadre of AM radio troglodytes, to spread their messages of fear and intolerance across the airwaves.  We went to war in a country that a segment of our population wrongly believed was responsible for the attacks. The economy went into a tailspin, and many people, including myself, lost their jobs.

Today, many U.S. citizens of Middle Eastern descent are looked upon with suspicion. Others who express views about why we were attacked or differ about how we reacted are accused of being unpatriotic. Some say 9/11 united us. Maybe it did for a few weeks. But I believe that it divided us. Saddest of all is that the sense of normalcy I felt before I turned on the radio in my car that September morning 10 years ago is gone.

Mike Rice is working on his paralegal certification at Johnson County Community College and will finish in December. He works part-time at a bankruptcy law firm in Overland park, and on weekends he drives for a limo company, mostly taking people to and from KCI. He and his wife Catherine have three children.


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About this damned airport — Kansas City International, or as I know it, Kansas City Insipid Airport.

On Tuesday, June 1, The Star’s Randolph Heaster had a front-page story saying that reduced traffic at KCI — only 42 of 63 gates are being used — has airport officials looking more seriously at the possibility of scrapping the three-terminal set-up and going to a single terminal.

The story prompted at least two letters to the editor in The Star, both stressing how “convenient” and “traveler-friendly” Kansas City Insipid is.

I say balderdash. KCI is the dullest, dreariest major airport I’ve ever seen, and it’s horribly inefficient as far as check-in, security and concessions. A move to a single terminal — an inevitability — can’t happen soon enough for me. 

A new, all-in-one terminal would inject energy into Kansas City, just as construction of the Power & Light District energized downtown. When you’re going after conventions and out-of-town visitors, you have to get people’s attention the moment they come off the jetway and take in their new, temporary surroundings. 

It wouldn’t surprise me if the people who prattle on about KCI’s convenience are among those who complain about continued references to Kansas City’s “cowtown” roots. Well, I think we should be proud of our heritage and play it up. It’s distinctive, and it’s us. But it doesn’t mean we’re dull and dowdy.

That cowtown past is part of what piqued my curiosity about Kansas City when I pulled into town — driving my ’59 white Pontiac — in the fall of 1969. I remember going downtown to the Towne Cinema, I believe it was, and seeing the John Wayne movie “True Grit.” Maybe it was the movie and maybe it was just me — young and single and on the cusp of life on my own — but as I stood on the street later that afternoon and watched people pour out of the office buildings, I got a sense of a city with a pulse, a city where you could have a good time and set your own pace.  

But that’s not the sense that travelers get when they arrive at KCI, is it? No. You step off the plane and into the terminal and you’re usually hit with the sight of a nearly empty concourse and the sounds of luggage wheels on marble. It doesn’t exactly cultivate a sense of action and excitement.

That’s what I want my city to have — a sense of excitement. As people get off the plane and check out their surroundings, I want them to be thinking, “All right, now, this is looking promising. What adventures are in store in this former cowtown?”

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