You Looking For a Space? - Kansas City Airport Has It

The competition for travelers parking dollars at Kansas City International Airport has become hotter than summer asphalt. And it probably wont cool anytime soon.

The Parking Spot, a privately owned operation at KCI, broke ground Monday on a nearly five-acre expansion that will add 451 covered spots to the site at the northwest corner of Interstate 29 and Cookingham Drive. Also, the company plans to add covers to 160 existing surface parking spaces.

When completed this fall, the Parking Spot will have a total of 2,410 spaces, of which 1,420 will be surface and 990 will be covered by a 168,000-square-foot steel roof structure.

Also Monday, the Kansas City Aviation Department kicked off a reward program for frequent users of its 15,000-space economy parking lot, which opened in January 2004. The economy lot, which is adjacent to the Parking Spot, replaced the satellite lot at Paris Street and Cookingham Drive.

The Parking Spots expansion, the second since the business opened at KCI in 1999, and the economy lots new frequent-user promotion are coming at a time when passenger traffic at the airport is returning to levels the airport had before Sept. 11, 2001.

And those travelers are finding more parking options than ever before.

Last summer the Parking Plaza KCI, a 1,500-space lot, opened at 11500 N.W. Prairie View Road. That company offers oil changes, motor vehicle inspections and other maintenance services for customers vehicles, as well as a pet boarding service.

Some rental car agencies near the airport offer parking services, too. They include Thrifty, which is next to the Parking Plaza KCI.

Terry Trippler, a Minneapolis air travel consultant, said KCI is at the forefront of this revolution in airport parking services.

At one time, parking was not a big thing at the airport, Trippler said. But parking generates income, and airports need that.

Parking is one of KCIs top revenue generators. In fiscal 2004, which ended April 30, the Aviation Department collected $32.9 million in parking revenues, a 4 percent increase from the previous year. The private parking facilities do not disclose revenue.

Trippler predicted that the new parking operations at or near KCI will succeed because of the airports growth potential.

KCIs day is coming, he said. Its in an attractive part of the country for some airline to start a minihub there, and to the west the next major airport is Denver.

Travelers who were taking shuttle buses to the airport on Monday said the new parking facilities are a far cry from the day when the airports satellite lot was the only reasonably priced parking option near the airport.

Waiting for the bus used to take a lot of time, said George Atsangbe of Kansas City.

Each parking site at KCI, including the airports economy lot, has various customer services.

At the Parking Spot, which also has airport businesses in Los Angeles, Atlanta, St. Louis, Dallas, Houston and Orlando, customers are picked up and dropped off at their vehicles.

By the time people reach their parking space, one of our distinctive yellow shuttle buses is waiting to pick them up, said Paul Waspi, vice president of development for the Parking Spot.

Drivers help customers with luggage and offer free bottled water and a newspaper.

The covered parking spaces, which cost more than the surface spots, are popular because they protect vehicles from extreme weather conditions, Waspi said.

The Parking Plaza KCIs vehicle services include tire rotation, transmission and cooling system service, dent removal, windshield repair and a car wash. Valet parking is provided.

That kind of parking facility the one that will wash your car and everything else for a comparable rate while you are traveling is the wave of the future, Trippler said. I think its great to be able to come back from a trip and find the car washed and cleaned inside. Im waiting for an airport parking business that gives you dinner to go.

With so many more spaces, the city-owned airport cannot offer such services. But its lots are closer to the terminals.

The economy lot has three sections, each dedicated to one of the airports three terminals. Buses are designated for each section so that they take passengers straight to their desired terminal.

At the former satellite lot, buses and lots were not dedicated to a terminal, so a traveler who was flying out of Terminal C would have to ride a bus that would first go around the entire parking lot and then through Terminals A and B.

The airport also has parking lots adjacent to the terminals, but their daily rates are higher.

We have tried to stay ahead of the curve by having a variety of parking and price options, KCI spokesman Joe McBride said.

The frequent-user rewards program for the economy lot offers points to travelers each time they use the lot. Once they accumulate a certain number of points, they can receive prizes ranging from a free day of parking to luggage and electronics.

It marks the first time that the airport has offered such perks at its parking facilities to compete with other businesses.

The program is unique among public agencies that operate airports, said Tom McKenna, KCI marketing director.

The Parking Spot has a rewards program that offers points for every dollar spent, Waspi said. An accumulation of points allows customers to receive free parking.

Duncan Heydon, a Lees Summit resident who was riding an economy lot shuttle bus on Monday, said he used to be a customer of the Parking Spot but grew frustrated by the lack of available parking spaces.

There were too many times that they had to get a valet to park my car, Heydon said.

Waspi said valets move a car to a parking space when it becomes immediately available. Such situations, he said, are exactly why the expansion is necessary.