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DIA parties like it's 1995, plans big changes by 2025

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Denver International Airport celebrated its fifteenth anniversary this past weekend by erecting a scale model of a Boeing 787 wing and (according to this tut-tutting 9News story) handing out $9,000 worth of cupcakes. Sweet!

If our friends in broadcasting can get that exercised over a few thousand just desserts, think how they'll feel after they check out our cover story this week, "Flight Change," which looks at how DIA has evolved from a national joke to one of the most successful airports in the country -- and how management plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in the next few years to stay competitive.

Courting 787 nonstop flights from Asia is just one component of DIA's impending makeover. A long-awaited hotel and light-rail station just south of the existing terminal, a project that could cost a billion dollars or so, should arrive by 2015. And more long-range and even costlier changes are in the works once aviation manager Kim Day unveils a "preferred alternative" to the airport's original master plan for expanding its concourses and runways.

To give some idea of the upheaval involved, consider the original plan for expansion. As DIA's existing three concourses approach design capacity, the idea was to add on to them and then expand to the north in a linear fashion, adding concourses D and E:

But Day's team views the original plan as too disruptive to airside operations. (There are also some issues about extending the underground trains, discussed in this week's feature.) So one proposed alternative would build new concourses closer to the existing terminal:

While another would create a second terminal south of the hotel and station:

Have we seen price tags on any of these concepts, which would involve substantial relocation of roads and parking and other major adjustments to airport operations? Not yet -- but any of the expansion plans are enough to break anybody's cupcake budget. It's enough to make you start wondering about DIA's rich history of conspiracy theories and what hidden forces might be at work at the airport -- again.

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