Denver International Airport parking flap: DIA's demand for a piece of the gross

Vowing to "run this airport like a business," Denver International Airport manager Kim Day recently announced a ten-year financial strategy to keep operations in the black while funding a billion-dollar expansion plan. But some of DIA's longtime vendors and contractors say they're the ones getting the business from the airport's efforts to boost revenues.

As reported here a few weeks ago, the operator of the Auntie Anne's Soft Pretzels concession has complained that several small outlets are being squeezed out of the airport to make way for more upscale offerings -- even though, the operator contends, DIA will be losing lease revenues in the meantime. And off-site parking company officials are now in heated negotiations with the city in the wake of staggering hikes in the fees DIA wants from them for the privilege of picking up and dropping off customers at the terminal.

Until two months ago, DIA charged the off-site lots a flat access fee for every trip onto airport property. Now, though, the airport is demanding 8 percent of gross revenues, plus a surcharge for every time one of their vehicles lingers for more than fifteen minutes collecting or discharging customers.

A piece of the gross? Certain churches do business that way -- it's called tithing -- and top Hollywood talent might be able to demand a percentage for gracing a big-budget movie with their presence. But it's not exactly common practice among airports and off-site lots. "This isn't the standard way to do this," says Mark Walker, marketing manager for USAirport Parking. "Only a couple [of major airports] have tried."

Walker says his company, which handles more than 60 percent of the off-site parking, paid $200,000 in access fees to DIA last year. He estimates the new rake-off will cost USAirport at least five times that much if some other arrangement isn't reached -- costs that would eventually lead to a hike in the parking rates the company charges its clientele.

Airport officials have maintained that the new approach allows them to recoup more of the road maintenance and other costs involved in having various vans and fleet vehicles circling the terminal. But USAirport's attorneys contend that the airport is required to justify the assessment with an accurate analysis of the costs attributable to various users -- something the company hasn't seen yet.

"They've just come out and said, 'This is what we want you to pay' -- not, 'This is what it costs us,'" Walker explains. "They're supposed to identify the cost and divvy it up equitably among the users."

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USAirport hasn't raised its rates yet and is still in discussions with DIA about the hike. If it isn't modified, it's likely that off-site airport parking will end up costing as much or more than parking in DIA's long-term lots.

Could that be the point of the whole exercise? "It's a little disconcerting to not only have to compete with each other, but with the airport itself," Walker says. "It's like they're trying to squeeze out the off-site competition."

More from our Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive: "Parking ticket Scrooge has no holiday spirit: Bah humbug!"

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