Denver Government

Denver City Council Approves $1.1 Billion in Contracts to Finish Airport Renovation

Denver City Council just approved massive contracts for the airport.
Denver City Council just approved massive contracts for the airport. Denver International Airport
On January 10, Denver City Council voted 10-3 in favor of approving a massive set of contracts for a renovation of Denver International Airport.

"We can't leave our kitchen renovation half done," Councilman Kevin Flynn said at the January 10 council meeting before voting to approve the contracts. "It simply has to be completed."

The four contracts cover $1.1 billion for the continuing renovation of the Great Hall, including relocated security checkpoints. With another $200 million in money that the airport is chipping in directly, the cost of the entire project, set to be finished in 2028, will run over $2 billion.

Candi CdeBaca, Amanda Sawyer and Paul Kashmann voted against the contracts.

"This is a $1-billion-plus deal that I think, in view of the mess that preceded it, deserves an in-depth look by a fully objective third party. Without that in-depth investigation, I'll need to vote no tonight," Kashmann said.

Councilmembers are generally hopeful that the airport, now under the leadership of former RTD head Phil Washington, is headed in the right direction after a huge bungle. Under previous airport director Kim Day, Denver signed on to a 34-year, $1.8 billion deal with Ferrovial Airports to head Great Hall Partners, an alliance that had the goal of remodeling Jeppesen Terminal into a giant mall that would capture the shopping dollars of a captive audience of travelers trapped behind security.

That move backfired dramatically, as the city finally told Great Hall Partners in August 2019 that it was terminating the 34-year contract 32 years early. Overall, the City of Denver was on the hook with Ferrovial for $245 million. Going forward, Denver International Airport must fund the rest of the preconceived project through bond money and airport revenue, whereas Ferrovial would have used city money and private financing.

The renovation is aimed at enhancing and relocating security, increasing capacity for growth for new airlines and improving operational efficiency, according to airport officials. The large contracts that council just approved are with companies with which the airport has already been working, such as an additional $900 million to Hensel Phelps Construction Company, which signed on after the original project blew up. Hensel Phelps will be in charge of competitively bidding out some of the construction jobs.

Another $100 million will go to Stantec Architecture, with $50 million each earmarked for LS Gallegos and Associates and Jacobs Engineering Group. The additional $200 million in projects that Denver City Council did not vote on — since council only votes to approve contracts and not direct airport spending — will go toward building what the airport is calling a Center of Excellence and Equity in Aviation, terminal modernization and capacity upgrades.

According to airport staffers, the security updates are necessary because the current security design at DIA, which opened in 1995 and is now the third-busiest airport in the world, became obsolete after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

"This is an aging facility," Washington told a council meeting on December 15. "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."
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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.