Denver Government

Denver Council to Have Final Say on Denver Airport Contract...but Not Tonight

Denver Council to Have Final Say on Denver Airport Contract...but Not Tonight
Denver International Airport
With the price tag on extensive renovations to the Jeppesen Terminal at Denver International Airport growing, Denver City Council will have the final say on how the project will move forward — but it wants a little more time.

Although the full council was supposed to vote on four contracts for the Great Hall renovation project today, January 3, councilmembers Kevin Flynn and Debbie Ortega plan to introduce a motion to postpone the vote; rule 3.7 of the council's rules of procedures provides for an automatic one-week delay on contracts and certain other resolutions on the request of a member.

Flynn thinks that council needs more time to talk about the proposal. "The bottom line is, we can’t leave the airport half done, but why does it cost this much?" asks Flynn, who chairs the council's Business, Arts, Workforce and Aviation Services Committee.

The votes that had been set for the January 3 meeting include four contracts worth $1.1 billion for the Great Hall renovation. With the addition of $200 million more that Denver International Airport plans to use on a new aspect of the project, the entire cost of the renovation, which will include the construction of new, relocated security checkpoints, will hit over $2 billion.

The $2 billion-plus price tag is closer to the amount Denver signed on for in August 2017, when the city agreed to a 34-year, $1.8 billion deal with Ferrovial Airports to head Great Hall Partners, an alliance that would lead the way on remodeling Jeppesen Terminal into what essentially would have been a giant private mall that would capture the shopping dollars of a captive audience of travelers trapped behind security.

But that agreement turned out to be a disaster for the City of Denver, which finally told Great Hall Partners in August 2019 that it was terminating the 34-year contract 32 years early. In total, Denver was on the hook for paying $245 million to Ferrovial...but now it must fund the project through bond money and airport revenue where Ferrovial would have used city money and private financing.

With Phil Washington, the successor to Kim Day, at the helm of Denver International Airport, the project is still moving forward, albeit having undergone a significant transformation.

"It is no longer the Great Mall project. That’s gone," says Flynn. "What will happen, though, is that the south mod and the center mod, where south security is right now and where you come up from the train in the center, will be open to the public. It will be much more welcome and inviting."

The airport press relations team did not respond to inquiries from Westword.

During a December 15 Business, Arts, Workforce and Aviation Services Committee meeting, Washington shared reasons that the project needs to go through.

"This is an aging facility. This airport is 26 years old. It is aging. It is showing its age in many respects, and it's crowded. I've often said that around the country, not just DEN, it's the same airport, but more people. More people are flying, and we are recovering more than and faster than any large hub airport in this country," Washington said.

The new contracts would give more money to companies that the airport is already contracting with for the renovations, including Hensel Phelps Construction Company, which signed on after the original project blew up.

Flynn, who covered the planning and development of Denver International Airport as a journalist for the Rocky Mountain News, characterizes DIA as an airport that became obsolete after the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

"We have to get the TSA areas into a much more securable part of the airport and reopen the Great Hall the way it was opened in 1995, when it was a public area," he says. "This airport, there are times when it is nothing short of chaotic, and we’ve seen it with the buildup to Thanksgiving."

And this work has to be done, according to Flynn. "When you look at the project and the false start we had, it’s like if you decided to remodel your house and you realize halfway through that you made mistakes and you have to reorganize the whole project. You can’t leave your kitchen half done," he says.

The city has already completed the first phase of the revised three-phase project ahead of schedule and under budget. It's now working on phase two, with the entire project scheduled to wrap up by 2028. With a timetable like that, what's one more week?
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.