KC Councilwoman Jolie Justus: New Bid For KCI Raises More Questions Than Answers

May 26, 2017

Kansas City officials are trying to figure out how to proceed after receiving a letter from the nation's largest airport design firm saying it was interested in a new single-terminal deal at Kansas City International Airport. 

The Kansas City Star first reported the letter from AECOM, which Councilwoman Jolie Justus says she received about 2:30 Thursday afternoon — hours after a second public hearing to discuss a proposal put forth by Kansas City engineering firm Burns & McDonnell to design, build and privately finance a new terminal. 

"Frankly it raised more questions than it did answers," Justus says of the one-page letter. "They say they have an interest in what we're doing in Kansas City, they say they're a leader in design, build, finance, operation and maintenance of airports and they wanted to talk to us about that." 

Justus spoke with host Steve Kraske on KCUR's Up To Date. She says right off the bat, she noticed a red flag. 

"They are really, I think, someone who does operation and maintenance of airports after they design-build and we said from the very beginning that we do not want to give up the operation and maintenance of KCI as a city," Jolie says.

Earlier this week, Mayor Sly James said the city has received multiple offers to finance a new terminal from overseas infrastructure banks who, in turn, wanted to operate it and keep a percentage of ownership.

"Those are non-starters here," James said. 

That's what's so appealing about the plan From Burns & McDonnell, Justus says. They would finance, design and build the terminal, but the city would retain ownership and operation. 

The letter from AECOM didn't lay out details about financing or design. The Los Angeles-based firm is the biggest airport designer in the country in terms of revenue. 

Justus says while they continue digging into the Burns and McDonnell proposal with outside legal counsel, they'll also have to learn more about AECOM.

"They're obviously not a local company and I believe they're also a publicly-traded company so are they going to be able to commit to a guaranteed maximum price ... would they agree to the local work force?" 

The city will also have requirements for hiring minority and women-owned businesses and Justus says it's uncertain whether an outside firm would comply. 

She also worries about opening the project up for a competitive bid process. Time is of the essence, she says, especially since the city wants to put the issue on the November ballot. 

"Personally, I am concerned that if we push this past the November ballot, that the airlines, who have already said they're growing increasingly frustrated with Kansas City, are going to have to start looking at other options," Justus says. 

Justus says the city council will have to answer those questions in the coming days, and decide what's in the city's best interest.

But with officials already fast-tracking the process to enter into an exclusive agreement with Burns & McDonnell by June 15th, time is running out. 

Lisa Rodriguez is a reporter and KCUR's afternoon newscaster. Connect with her on Twitter @larodrig