Kansas City Mayor Sly James Addresses Airport Plan Questions At Public Forum

Aug 16, 2017

The large majority of the questions about plans for a new airport that Kansas City Mayor Sly James fielded at a public forum on Wednesday evening came down to one thing: money.

From the stage of the Gem Theater, James seemed at times challenged to avoid repeating himself as he answered variations on the same questions about how the new airport would be paid for, what it would cost taxpayers and the amount of economic boost it would create.

Mayor James, who’s seeking support for a proposed airport ballot measure, answered questions submitted via social media and written on postcards by a few dozen forum attendees.

Lindsay Houston, who lives near the airport, says she wasn’t familiar with the details of the current proposal, but she liked what she heard.

“We’re interested in the change and what that was going to bring,” Houston said. “I didn’t realize it wasn’t going to be on taxpayers, so that was interesting.”

James explained that the plan would create nearly a billion dollars in bonds to build a new terminal, which would be repaid by airlines and vendors. They would repaid around $86 million dollars per year over thirty years.

James also said the airport and construction would create 18,000 jobs.

That promise interested Kansas City resident Ben Kimble, but he questioned how of many those positions would be permanent.

“I want to see if that’s just construction jobs building it, or that’s jobs that’s going to be created period,” said Kimble, who hopes the Mayor will explain the potential job creation in greater detail in the future.  

James also addressed questions about who would hold financial responsibility should construction costs exceed the funding generated through the bonds. He said any access costs would fall on the airlines.

A handful of members from the group Citizens for Responsible Government expressed doubts about that claim.

“That could be the case,” said John Murphy. “But remember, we own that airport. And if this thing – if they do it wrong and this blows up, the federal government will require Kansas City to come in and bail out that airport.”

James, who has been involved in multiple attempts to build a new airport, said that if voters rejected the airport plan, he would leave future action on the airport to the next mayor.

“The opportunities are limitless,” James said. “But there is no opportunity if there is no activity.”

Alex Smith is a health reporter for KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @AlexSmithKCUR