Aecom gets second bite at $1bn Kansas City airport after shock council vote

The chaotic saga of Kansas City, Michigan’s attempt to get a new international airport built with private finance, has taken yet another twist.

Shut out from the scheme after a popular vote in November, contracting giant Aecom and local firm Burns & McDonnell have now teamed up to renew their bid for the $1bn contract to demolish terminals at Kansas City International Airport (KCI) and replace them with a single building.

The two contractors lost out to Baltimore-based rival Edgemoor in November, however the procurement process has been thrown open yet again after council leaders last week voted nine-to-four to reject a memorandum of understanding signed with the Edgemoor consortium.

The two companies made the announcement of the alliance yesterday, and immediately pledged to make a $75m investment in a Legacy Fund, provide $15m in community benefits and pay minority subcontractors within five days.

Aecom also issued a statement declaring that its commitment to Kansas City had "never wavered" and pledging to design, among other things, a scheme that demonstrated its "commitment to the minority community" and "a collaborative working relationship with Kansas City’s labour community".

It added that it was "anxiously waiting for the council to take the next steps in the process", and that there was "no time for delay".

The decision was followed by finger-pointing, fury and feuding

The council now has to choose whether to renegotiate the deal with Edgemoor, offer the work to another bidder or begin the procurement process again from the beginning.

All three options have gained support from councillors, however the expectation is that the council will talk to KCI Partnership, the newly enlarged Aecom-led consortium, later this week.

Aecom’s statement reflected the intensely political nature of the battle, in which the bidders strove to establish the community-friendly nature of their proposals. The reason for rejecting Edgemoor was reportedly unhappiness with the community benefits package on offer.

Kelvin Perry of the Black Chamber of Commerce said on Monday that Edgemoor’s commitment was "very shallow in terms of community benefits agreements".

The agreements in question included a goal of 35% participation by minority and women-owned businesses. The Black Chamber of Commerce argued that there should be a 33% quota for minorities alone. The city had an African-American and Hispanic population of 40% in the 2010 census.  

Another sticking point was a clause that would have required the council to pay the consortium’s bidding costs if the scheme were cancelled. Cllr Heather Hall commented: "If we terminate, we are on the hook for everything from 26 September until whatever date that is, and right now it is roughly $30m that they say they’ve spent."

The decision was followed by what one local broadcaster described as "finger-pointing, fury and feuding" among the council’s leadership.

Mayor James, who negotiated the original no-bid deal with Burns & McDonnell, said: "It puts a stain on this city that I’ve worked for the last six-and-a-half years to avoid. It is a bad way to govern, and it is a sham of a process when you do this. So, I’m not going to join this process with them. I’m going to do everything I can to get it back on track."

See "further reading", below, for more information on the twists and turns in the KCI saga.

Image: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s design for the Edgemoor proposal (SOM)

Further Reading:

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