Kathy Nelson was fed up with hearing, “No.” For the second time, Kansas City lost out on being host city for the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championship.

“I’m a big wrestling fan, and I was so frustrated,” said Nelson, CEO of the Greater Kansas City Sports Commission & Foundation. “So I flew to the committee members and said: ‘Why did you not pick Kansas City? What are we missing?’ … And I’ll never forget — the chair of the NCAA wrestling committee from Oklahoma City said, ‘Your airport sucks.’”

Now, fast forward to the new $1.5 billion single-terminal airport that officially debuted Tuesday. It’s a “game changer,” she said during the Kansas City Business Journal’s Power Breakfast on Tuesday.

Pitching the need for a new Kansas City International Airport became a multiyear effort, and in 2017, that work paid off with voters overwhelmingly approving the single-terminal project. The day after the vote, Nelson drove to Oklahoma City with a newspaper in hand that touted the win. She set it down on the committee chair’s desk.

“I just said, ‘Now you can’t tell me no,’” she said. “And now we’re hosting.”

The championship heads to T-Mobile Center in 2024, and the venue expects to sell out all six sessions, with about 8,000 to 18,000 people a session. The Sports Commission estimates an economic impact of about $26 million.

“(It’s) the largest collegiate championship next to a men’s Final Four,” she said.

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