Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Denver International Airport: Bastard or brainchild?

The Visit Denver Hall of Fame dinner on March 4 served up a few ironic moments alongside the beef entree. There was John Hickenlooper, praising inductee Pat Bowlen -- when the start of Hickenlooper's political career has been tagged to his campaign against selling the naming rights of the new stadium for the Broncos. And inductee Walter Isenberg, whose name has been bandied about as a potential future mayor, accepting his honor with what sounded like a stump speech.

And then there was inductee Curt Fentress, the architect lauded for changing the landscape of Denver, most notably with the tent roof at Denver International Airport. But although Visit Denver cited Fentress for designing DIA, at least one person begs to differ.

Curt Fentress "did not design DIA's terminal," much less Denver International Airport, DIA spokesman Chuck Cannon insists. And he did so in e-mails to Penny Parker, who reported the Visit Denver awards in her Sunday Denver Post column, and Alan Prendergast, who wrote about DIA's expansion plans in Westword last week, and in a note to Visit Denver.

True, Fentress was brought in at the last second to take over a project that had been originally given to the Perez Group. And at the Visit Denver dinner, much was made of the fact that Fentress only had three weeks to come up with the tent design, saving the city $100,000,000 in the process.

But why the revisionist history now? Fentress, who's gone on to design airports around the globe (but has still done plenty of projects here at home, including Invesco Field at Mile High, the Colorado Convention Center and what will one day be the state's new justice center, politely declines to get into any kind of debate. Tom Noel, the University of Colorado Denver history professor who wrote the book on the city's tourism history -- literally, since Visit Denver handed out copies of Mile High Tourism at the Visit Denver dinner -- says all his research points to Fentress as the terminal designer. "I've got those designs Perez did," he says. And they look nothing like the finished airport.

"The roof is the iconic thing," concludes Rich Grant, communications director of Visit Denver, "and has become one of the most beloved images in the city. There's no doubt that he designed the roof. And if anyone wants to jump forward and say they designed the baggage system that delayed the opening for a year, the line forms right behind Fentress."


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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun