Denver just hired a company for $195 million to make the airport’s Great Hall great (or at least finished)

Starting in March, Hensel Phelps will pick up where the fired group of companies left off.
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Construction work at Denver International Airport, Oct. 23, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The renovation of Denver International Airport's main terminal will restart in March, more than six months after the city government fired its original contractor.

DIA's new timeline comes with a new team of architects and builders led by Hensel Phelps, a firm with its hands in several local projects. Denver City Council members approved a contract with the company worth up to $195 million Monday.

Hensel Phelps and its subcontractors are tasked with finishing the first phase of the Great Hall makeover: a new check-in area, new airline ticket counters, wider balconies, new escalators, and four new bathrooms, all on the sixth floor. Airport officials say it should be done sometime in 2021.

Phase one is only about 25 percent finished, airport officials told city council members earlier this month. Hensel Phelps faces penalties if it doesn't reach milestones set by DIA.

Airport officials are "committed to completing this project in a responsible way" and are ready for Hensel Phelps to "take the baton and restart the construction," airport CEO Kim Day told council members earlier this month.

The cost of the entire Great Hall renovation is estimated at $770 million.

The contract does not cover DIA's new screening and security areas -- the impetus for the entire renovation.

"If we short-change anywhere, it should not be on that," Councilman Kevin Flynn said. "I don't know how much scope reduction is required before we stop calling it the 'Great Hall' and start calling it just the 'Good Hall.'"

Airport officials say they're working through a timeline on that piece of the project, which was stopped short when the original private-public partnership imploded last August. Disagreements over costs and timelines between the city-owned airport and Great Hall Partners, led by Spanish company Ferrovial, ended that relationship.

The financing structure was supposed to exemplify the "P3" model, a favored financing tool of the Hancock administration in which private companies front money for big projects in return for profit from management rights and retail sales over three decades.

Instead, travelers are still guessing on the progress of DIA's Great Hall. It is not fully designed and it's unclear who will handle later phases.

"As we're doing all this (phase one work), we're going to continue the process of defining that future phase or phases," DIA vice president of special projects Michael Sheehan told council members. "We really have our sleeves rolled up on this project and are really working very around the clock to make sure we finish this."

Airport CEO Kim Day is "confident" this piece will be finished in 2024.

"I think were all really anxious to get these improvements finished and let us focus on the work that we do of moving people around and adding more flights and eventually adding an additional runway and some of that stuff that has allowed this to be the incredible economic engine that it has been for the whole Front Range."

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