Voters in Kansas City overwhelmingly approved a new $1 billion plan on Tuesday to transform the Kansas City International Airport (KCI). Passed by a 75-to-25 margin, work now begins on tearing down the existing three terminals and consolidating the airport into one building. Leading up to the vote, Maryland-based Edgemoor Infrastructure & Real Estate had been tapped by Kansas City officials to develop the airport, with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) designing.

Opened in 1972, the clover-shaped KSI was almost immediately made obsolete in the same year by the passage of new airport security requirements. The horseshoe arrangement allows passengers to easily get from the street to the gate, but also precludes the rigorous security checkpoints that modern airports require. Public opinion over the terminals has been sharply divided ever since the installation of an unwieldy glass wall between the ticketing and boarding area, required by the FAA after a hijacking attempt.

Archival photo of the KC International Airport in the 1970’s (Courtesy Kansas City Aviation Department)

SOM’s proposal for the airport has tried to keep the same level of convenience that Kansas City residents are used to. Their H-shaped terminal will have two concourses and accommodate 35 gates, and the arrivals and departure area has been split across different levels while still retaining curbside service. An improved arrangement of dining and retail options has been added as well, especially important as the project will be funded in part by concessions sales.

Most striking is the firm’s attempt to bring natural light into the concrete-topped concourse. Floor-to-ceiling windows and an undulating roof structure that references rolling hills is split up with even more glass that will give passengers uninterrupted views. Besides adding parking and expanding the size of security areas to avoid a passenger backlog, SOM has also included a series of two-story-tall fountains capable of having messages projected into them, reminiscent of Safdie Architect’s Water Vortex in Singapore’s Changi Airport.

However, the project may be still tenuous despite the project’s 2021 completion goal. Edgemoor had been selected by the city after promising to pay for the project by taking on private debt without burdening taxpayers, but this also exposes them to bearing any cost overruns down the line. The firm now has to complete a detailed construction agreement with the city or the project will be handed off to AECOM.

The airport vote follows a riverfront master plan unveiled in July, and it looks like new development in Kansas City won’t slow down anytime soon. The full terminal master plan and set of site studies can be found here.

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