For years, Kansas City Mayor Sly James asserted that revenue generated at the airport cannot be redirected to the city. This is incorrect. Airport funds have been redirected to the city to cover other bad economic development investments. But his strong insistence makes the recent news all the more puzzling.
According to The Kansas City Star, part of the deal the city struck with Edgemoor, the winning bidder for construction of the new terminal, included diverting airport revenue to workforce training, gap-financing for developers, and support for a program to help the elderly with home renovation. The FAA rejected these expenditures. According to the Star:
The FAA also rejected the use of airport revenues for $1.5 million in assistance to the Northland, including housing, economic development and mental health needs.
Why is this a surprise? Even if city hall doesn’t have a command of the specifics about how airports operate, shouldn’t it be aware of these prohibitions? Shouldn’t Council members—especially the members who served on the Council’s short-lived airport committee—have known this?
This is the second in a recent set of embarrassing revelations about the airport project. Recall that a few weeks ago we learned that the Aviation Department director didn’t know enough about FAA regulations regarding environmental assessments. And before that there was the years’ long parade of advisory groups and consultants.
Building a new airport terminal is a big project, and unforeseen challenges and setbacks are no surprise. But what we’ve seen so far indicates a serious lack of competent leadership.