NOW ARRIVING: POTENTIAL – As the new terminal nears its Feb. 28 opening, the biggest delivery it makes could be the promise of bringing more businesses, jobs, events and maybe civic pride, too.
Thomas Friestad, Staff Writer – Kansas City Business Journal
Many passengers over the years have touted short curb-to-gate distances as a convenient perk of Kansas City International Airport’s old terminals.
Kansas City Area Development Council officials echoed the sentiment — though not for reasons complimentary to the soon-to-close terminals.
Tim Cowden, CEO of the region’s lead business development and attraction agency, said he and his colleagues have tried to time dropping off and picking up company executives and representatives to minimize time spent inside terminals at KCI (Code: MCI).
“We’ve said around here that the old airport terminal is fine because, if you don’t spend any time in it, it’s great, so when we’ve picked people up, they come right in and out, and then we’re gone,” he said. “The convenience of that was certainly a positive, but when you have to wait there for any extended period of time, your experience goes down proportionately.
“That was really the thing that we would hear oftentimes from our clients: ‘Don’t leave me out there.’”
Cowden couldn’t recall any projects that opted not to locate in the metro area because of existing KCI facilities. He can recount one occasion when an executive with a major coastal tech company told him he would not fly the company’s top brass in “with the state of your airport terminal.”
Fortunately, the exchange took place partway through construction of KCI’s $1.5 billion new terminal, which Cowden said he was able to bring to the executive’s attention for the first time. The new facility will open on Feb. 28.
Other times, the region has been ruled out for projects because of insufficient flights out of KCI — something Cowden said he expects will change as airlines increase their service at the modernized facility.
“This is going to open up all sorts of dialogue possibilities that before would be shut down,” he said. “Kansas City will have an airport asset that matches the quality of the remainder of this region. When we get people here, truly, they’re amazed. They feel this momentum. … And now, this airport terminal is going to complement all of that.”
The companies behind the area’s largest two business-attraction deals of 2022 — Panasonic Corp. and Meta Platforms Inc. — cite KCI’s new terminal as a factor that contributed to their decisions, on top of the region’s skilled workforce, central location, renewable energy access and reliable infrastructure.
“The new terminal at Kansas City International is a key component of that reliable infrastructure,” said Allan Swan, president of Panasonic Energy of North America, which is building a $4 billion electric-vehicle battery factory in De Soto. “In addition to having a positive impact on our facility’s operations, the new terminal will be an important amenity for our employees, making their business and vacation travel more comfortable and convenient for decades to come.”
Meta, parent company to Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, is even closer to KCI, with an $800 million data center under construction in the Northland and more than 500 acres of surrounding land under its ownership for potential future investment.
“Meta is proud to call Kansas City home, and we join the community and our partners in their excitement around this investment and what it means for the region,” spokeswoman Melanie Roe said.
It’s conceivable that future megaprojects could locate still closer to the terminal. Hunt Midwest recently advanced plans for a 3,300-acre industrial and office site — KCI 29 Logistics Park — just northeast of the airport.
“The new terminal doesn’t just bring Kansas City International Airport up to modern standards, they’ve really tried to set the stage for decades of growth and improvements to come, which is what the decisionmakers at these big companies want to see,” said Aaron Schmidt, Hunt Midwest’s vice president of development and construction. “This beautiful new facility will make an incredible impression on those business executives, and once they see for themselves how quickly they can get into our growing city and how easy it is to reach the rest of the country from here, they’re one step closer to picturing themselves and their employees living here.”