Westin DIA Hotel Sets Opening, but Things Don't Always Go as Planned at Airport

Denver International Airport
and Westin DIA officials said on Monday that they plan to open the fourteen-story, 519-room airport hotel on November 19. The Westin will be part of the new Hotel and Transit Center — yes, that giant mustache-looking thing (or does it resemble a pirate ship?) — that has been rising on the south side of the Jeppesen Terminal for the past three years.

But you’ll have to pardon us if we’re not holding our breath beneath that mustache. DIA, after all, has a long history with delays — and we’re not just talking about Frontier Airlines flights.

Although the hotel will debut twenty years after DIA opened, replacing Stapleton International Airport in 1995, this anniversary present will really be two years late. That’s because DIA was originally supposed to start service on Halloween 1993. But Mayor Wellington Webb’s shiny new airport suffered a series of serious, scary setbacks, the most severe of which ws the failure of what was supposed to have been a fully automated, state-of-the-art baggage-handling system.

The $193 million boondoggle never worked and was eventually scrapped completely. DIA itself opened two years late and $2 billion over budget.

For those who forgot to pack their history books, here’s a handy timeline of the DIA delays:

In March 1993, Webb announced that the opening of the airport of the future would have to be delayed from October until December of that year, “to allow for a seven-week debugging of hundreds of systems.” Seven months later, Webb told the public that opening day would again be moved back, this time to March 9, 1994, “to accommodate changes made by the airlines, allow more time to test critical airport systems, train airline ticket agents and other workers, and complete installation of fire and security systems.”

But that was just the beginning of the announcements. In February 1994, the opening was delayed again to May 15, “to accommodate problems of troubleshooting the airport’s complex baggage system.” In his announcement of this latest hold, Webb vowed that the airport would open on May 15 “come hell or high water.” The situation did prove to be hellish for Webb, who had to back away from those words in May 1994, when he postponed the opening indefinitely because of problems with that system.

And more problems. Denver eventually decided to spend another $50 million to install a regular baggage-handling system. But that meant more delays: In August 1994, the city unveiled a new opening date of February 28, 1995. That final date did the trick, sort of: DIA opened concourses B and C, but couldn’t open Concourse A because of a legal dispute with Continental Airlines, which had decided to reduce its presence at the new airport.

Oddly, construction of the Westin has proceeded mostly on schedule — despite the fact that star architect Santiago Calatrava abruptly pulled out of the project in 2011, citing “financial constraints, unnecessary time delays and deep divisions between the design team and program managers.”

But as we all know, art can’t be held to a timeline.

In 1993, right around the time that DIA wasn’t actually opening, the city gave $300,000 to renowned New Mexico artist Luis Jiménez for “Mustang,” a 32-foot-high, bright-blue fiberglass horse that would become part of a thirty-plus-piece, $7 million art collection at DIA. But the artist worked slowly, very slowly, inspiring threats and legal action from the city. And by the time the sculpture was finally installed — twelve years late and thirteen years after DIA opened — its price had doubled, to $650,000. And it had also cost the life of Jiménez, who was killed in 2006 when a piece of the 9,000-pound sculpture fell on the 65-year-old artist while he was working on it in his studio, severing an artery in his leg.

When the Westin does open, it will include a massive outdoor plaza (and, in 2016, a light-rail station connecting the airport to downtown Denver), a conference center, a swimming pool and fitness center, two restaurants, and triple-paned windows in the guest rooms to dull some of the sounds of airlines landing and taking off. And there will be plenty of bellboys, we’re guessing. You know, the guys who handle your baggage.

Hopefully, you won’t have to tip them $193 million.
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