Concern about millions in “community benefits” within new KCI deal

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Part of the $1.5 billion price tag to build a new terminal at KCI Airport includes about $22 million for what many on the city council have called "community benefits."

The city attorney says both the airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration have expressed concerns about that fund.

Aviation funding can only be spent at the airport. And when the airlines saw a community benefits agreement as part of the project, it raised a few eyebrows.

Airport managers say the fund is supposed to help train Kansas Citians to work on the massive construction project and provide related services for those workers, including: public transit and child care.

But the FAA and airlines objected to "community benefits" because the name implies it could turn into a slush fund for other projects outside the airport.

To prevent that, the city is changing the name of the fund to the Terminal Workforce Enhancement Program.

"The devil is in the details and figuring out the many things, that although they may sound nice as one-off ideas, should not be in that," said Councilman Quinton Lucas, a member of the airport committee. "That included providing different health care service funds for areas outside the airport, providing housing funds to areas that are 10 or 15 miles outside the airport. That's when you get going a bit far afield. And that’s what we need to make sure we are not doing with this."

Airport managers also disclosed how they resolved a dispute among the airlines for sharing costs to build the new terminal.

There was a disagreement over fees for a new baggage handling system that hit small carriers harder than larger airlines.

To compensate, the new KCI will grant a 50 percent discount on the first gate an airline leases. Small carriers typically only have one gate, so they will benefit. And the aviation director says this also may help attract more airlines to KCI.

The city council committee is expected to vote next week on both short-term and long-term financing to finally get construction of the new terminal underway.

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