(Bloomberg) -- Kansas City, Missouri, views its new $1.5 billion airport terminal as a shiny gateway, symbolic of the economic and commercial success that city officials expect is forthcoming.
An improved Kansas City International Airport will open on Tuesday — welcoming passengers with glass jet-bridges, upscale dining options and solar-powered parking garages. The upgraded terminal boasts sensory and simulation rooms to comfort nervous fliers, family play areas and 10 infant feeding rooms.
“This is really a next level type of thing, both in branding for Kansas City, but also in saying really whatever you need, really anything other than a mountain or an ocean, we’ve got,” Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said in an interview. “And I think we have moved our infrastructure in our city from being an impediment to really being a true attribute.”
US airports in the last several years have raced to outfit new terminals with amenities, seeking to ride a rebound in air travel after the coronavirus pandemic. Since 2018, governments have sold more than $85 billion of airport bonds, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the operator of LaGuardia Airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport, is in the midst of a $30 billion renovation to transform the major metro-area travel hubs. And Chicago’s O’Hare International recently launched an $8.5 billion face lift.
While airports are essential to regional commerce, upgrading them doesn’t necessarily spur an immediate economic boom.
“Infrastructure development is really a boon for the economy as a whole,” S&P Global Ratings credit analyst Nora Wittstruck said in an interview. “Airports do sort of compete for demand, and we’ve seen when the airports undertake these modernization projects, which there have been a lot of recently, it can help them give a leg up to airlines.”
The Kansas City airport hadn’t been renovated since opening in 1972. Built in the brutalist-style that was popular at the time, the airport consisted of cement, u-shaped terminals providing little natural light and a crowded travel experience for the growing city. The old terminals are slated to be torn down.
The city’s low cost of living has helped increase its population by more than 10% in the last two decades to around 508,000 people, with roughly 2 million in the surrounding metropolitan area, according to census data. It also houses such attractions as the most recent Super Bowl champions, the Kansas City Chiefs, and two other professional sports franchises: Major League Baseball’s Kansas City Royals and Sporting Kansas City of Major League Soccer.
Lucas maintains the new airport will drive further growth, both commercial and entertainment. The city has already been chosen to host the 2023 National Football League draft this April and will hold matches for the FIFA World Cup in 2026.
“The expansion in air travel opportunities very directly lead to greater commercial opportunities for us as a city,” Lucas said. “Right now there are markets that we can’t get, that we don’t have a direct flight to automatically, and sometimes that presents a business challenge certainly for members of our flying public.”
Aviation officials said they plan to use the new terminal to attract additional airlines and expand destinations. Southwest Airlines, the airport’s biggest carrier, will offer its first non-stop route between Kansas City and Long Beach, California, starting March 9.
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