Kansas City Council awards $1.5B KCI concessions contract to Vantage Airport Group

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — After weeks of debate, the Kansas City Council on Thursday approved the concessions contract for the new Kansas City International Airport terminal.

The council awarded the $1.5 billion contract to Vantage Airport Group in a 9-2 vote despite pushback from some council members.

Vantage’s concessions program will feature local brands like Charlie Hustle, Christopher Elbow, Urban Café, Stockyards Brewing Co. and barbecue — though the company has not declared which local barbecue restaurants will be included at the new terminal when it opens in 2023.

Five bids were submitted for the food, beverage, news and beverage contract at KCI’s new terminal. Vantage was quickly narrowed down as the frontrunner during committee meetings.

Vantage’s proposal, and the KCI concessions decision in general, have been a heated topic for the Kansas City Council over the past few weeks.

Council members Teresa Loar and Katheryn Shields walked out of a committee meeting last week over frustrations with the process.

Loar said it reminds her of the controversy over the terminal’s construction contract, citing issues with transparency and back-room meetings. Loar also argued local businesses will struggle under the Canadian company’s proposal.

Some members of the other bids have even alleged that there’s corruption involved in the selection process.

“There is obviously something wrong with the system,” said Jasper Mirable, owner of Jasper’s Italian restaurant, who’s also part of another proposal.

On Thursday, Shields called for the issue to be sent back to committee, but her motion ultimately failed.

“I think that if we had a public discussion of this, we would in fact find out whether or not this is best proposal,” Shield said. “To date, that public discussion has not occurred, and I don’t know that we know this is the best proposal.”

The contract with Vantage ultimately passed in a 9-2 vote with council member Dan Fowler abstaining and council member Heather Hall absent.

Fowler, who was on the selection committee, faced scrutiny last week for an accused conflict on interest. One of his political advisors is a major partner in the Vantage bid.

The councilman said that criticism was unfair but he wanted to “avoid the sideshow.” Ultimately, Fowler abstaining didn’t affect the general outcome as the bid passed.

“I know what my conscience says. My conscience says that this ought to pass,” he said. “We’ve been through it. It’s been over and over. We’ve had multiple meetings about it. It’s as open as anything could be.”

Vantage manages concessions at other airports around the world, including in Chicago, New York, Jamaica, Canada, and Cypress

Vantage initially planned to include a Chick-fil-A location in its KCI plans, but after pushback from the community, the fast food chain was dropped.

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