DIA’s airport renovation will now take longer and cost more

Denver City Council will soon decide whether to approve an additional $900 million in costs.

A guy walks on a roof outside of Denver International Airport. Oct. 1, 2021.

A guy walks on a roof outside of Denver International Airport. Oct. 1, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Rebecca Speiss.

The Denver City Council will decide on a possible $900 million cost increase for Denver International Airport’s Great Hall Project in the coming weeks.

The resolution, which passed a council subcommittee 6-1 on Wednesday after more than two hours of discussion, would increase the city’s contract with the Hensel Phelps Construction Company by $900 million. It would also increase contract budgets with Stantec Architecture Inc. by $100 million, Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. by $50 million and LS Gallegos by another $50 million — all for a new total of $1.26 billion. The renovation would also be extended another four years, with a new completion date at the end of 2028.

“This airport is 26 years old. It is aging, and it’s showing its age in many respects,” Denver International Airport CEO Phil Washington said. “The airport was built for 50 million annual passengers. In 2019, we were at 69 million, and next year we’re forecasting 72.8 million.”

During the presentation he gave Wednesday, Washington said the latest budget increases and timeline changes are due to the widening scope of the buildout and ongoing attempts to not disrupt passenger services like rail lines during construction. The new construction would include building out a total of 42 flight check-in points, allowing 60% more passengers to pass through each hour, modernizing ticketing and check-ins for all airlines and creating a Center of Excellence and Equity in Aviation to train and recruit people with interest in the industry.

“It’s important to note that our finances are strong,” Washington said, referring specifically to President Joe Biden’s new infrastructure bill, which includes a sizable chunk for airports and an estimated $400 million for Denver International Airport. “We are at an opportune time as it relates to infrastructure funding right now.”

Michael Sheehan, also with Denver International Airport, praised the teamwork that went into the completion of Phase 1 construction in October. He said Hensel Phelps had fulfilled their contract on time and within the agreed-upon $770 million budget. They took over the project when the city’s public-private partnership with original developers Great Hall Partners fell apart over cost disagreements back in 2019, when only 25% of the work was complete. The city then paid out $180 million to Great Hall Partner’s private contractors.

“I’m very supportive of this project… I’m just not comfortable that I have the full information that I need in order to make this decision for such an extraordinary amount of money,” Councilmember Amanda Sawyer, the only ‘no’ vote, said. Sawyer’s attempt to delay the vote until February was unsuccessful.

After construction is complete, city officials estimate the airport will have generated 6,500 new jobs and another 500 “indirect jobs” (for example, the employees hired by outside businesses within the airport) as well as 1,300 “induced jobs” (jobs created by new employees’ economic activity).

“Nobody wanted to be sitting here talking about a failed contractor and a longer timeline and a bigger price tag,” Councilmember Jolon Clark said. “That being said… I do truly believe you will be able to deliver this on this budget and on this timeline.”

Although $1.3 billion may seem like a hefty price, other major U.S. airports undergoing redevelopments have even more mind-boggling expenditures slated. New York’s JFK airport will revamp a terminal for $8.5 billion, while LAX’s modernization is set to cost $6 billion.

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