Denver lawmakers okay forking over $1.1 billion to complete the Great Hall Project at DIA

The money was approved through four different contracts for the project, which has faced delays.
3 min. read
TSA’s security check at Denver International Airport on a very snowy day, Oct. 29, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Denver City Council voted 10-3 on Monday to add a combined $1.1 billion to four different contracts to complete the Great Hall Project at Denver International Airport.

It's a big project that's faced some issues. Two years ago, the airport finished paying off a group of private companies as part of a private-public partnership which had been hired to renovate the main terminal. Those issues were alluded to by Councilmember Kevin Flynn, who despite highlighting past issues, was among the lawmakers who voted in favor.

"It's a mess," Flynn said, adding he was comfortable with the contract's ability to help upgrade the airport. "It's a mess and the failure of the (public-private partnership) left it a mess. A 'no' vote on this contract is a vote to keep it a mess, and I believe we can't do that."

Council members Candi CdeBaca, Paul Kashmann, and Amanda Sawyer voted no, with Sawyer suggesting the process behind the contracts was not transparent enough.

"This is a one-billion dollar plus deal that I think, in view of the mess that proceeded it, deserves an in-depth look by a fully objective third party," Kashmann said. "Without that in-depth investigation, I'll need to vote no tonight."

The approval includes adding $900 million to an existing contract with Hensel Phelps Construction Company, pushing its overall value to $1.3 billion, and extending its length by six years. It's the largest of the four contracts approved on Monday.

DIA CEO Phil Washington has said the additional money is needed for overall maintenance for the 26-year-old airport to help it serve the millions of passengers passing through its gates annually.

The changes will build a terminal to accommodate more passengers and modernize check-in areas, including providing self-pay stations and creating a new security checkpoint at the airport. It will help with overall upgrades to restrooms, flooring, lighting, elevators and escalators, which airport officials believe will help save money on future maintenance costs. The contracts approved on Monday will pay for the establishment of the Center of Excellence and Equity in Aviation, which is aimed at recruiting and training people interested in careers in aviation, with a focus on serving young people from low-income communities.

DIA is often cited as the state's biggest economic driver, generating billions of dollars in economic impact for the state. Last year, despite the ongoing pandemic, it managed to be the world's third-busiest airport.

The money for the contract comes from the airport's own revenue and bonds, so the money isn't coming from the city's own $1.49 billion overall 2022 spending plan. Airport spokesperson Alex Renteria said the project is anticipating getting money from the more than $1 trillion infrastructure package approved by Congress last fall. Renteria said the airport plans on applying for federal grant money made available through the package.

The three other DIA contracts approved on Monday for the Great Hall project include increasing contracts with Jacobs Engineering Group by $50 million (new total: $102 million), LS Gallegos by $50 million (new total: $78 million), and Stantec Architecture by $100 million (new total: $133.1 million).

Renteria said work on the project will begin later this year and be completed between spring 2027 and summer 2028, with sections opening along the way.

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