For the city of St. Joseph, the most important part of the $1.5 billion terminal at Kansas City International Airport isn’t the new check-in hall, the 40 gates or even the little flourishes like artwork, fountains and restaurants.
The most important feature is the sign on the main access road leading from KCI, the one that points to St. Joseph.
That sign was there long before work began on the new single terminal at KCI, but its presence serves to reinforce St. Joseph’s good fortune of being closer to an international airport than some far-flung suburbs in the KC metro.
St. Joseph has a complex relationship with Kansas City, sort of like a younger brother who looks up to a bigger sibling but also resents what can seem like second-fiddle status. St. Joseph residents can view all those nearby amenities as an attribute, but the larger city also acts as a magnet that sucks away population. This is especially true with younger workers and families that St. Joseph badly needs to grow.
By and large, St. Joseph is better off being 45 minutes from the heart of Kansas City instead of a stone’s throw from the Iowa state line. (That’s where some people in Kansas City believe St. Joseph is located anyway.)
This is especially true with an international airport that serves as a convenience to the local population and a major selling point when promoting St. Joseph to new businesses. In recent years, an executive or site selector might have found KCI’s proximity appealing even if the ‘70s-era design seemed sterile and outdated. First impressions matter, and this one could be transferred to St. Joseph.
In a small way, the glitzy new terminal that opened this week provides a first impression of St. Joseph as much as one of Kansas City. Our city stands to benefit from this and more practical developments associated with the airport.
In recent years, much of Kansas City’s growth has occurred in the south and west of the metro area, away from St. Joseph. A few decades ago, the state missed out on a major development when NASCAR built its racetrack in Kansas. The original plan called for a NASCAR track near KCI, which would have been huge for St. Joseph because of all the development that came with it.
Perhaps this time around, this major upgrade at KCI will fuel growth to the north, closer to St. Joseph. Some might prefer that Kansas City keeps its distance, but you can’t have it both ways.
A big part of St. Joseph’s future is leveraging its uniqueness while capitalizing on its nearness to the bigger urban center to the south. KCI is a big part of that.
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