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Denver International Airport Wants $1.1 Billion to Complete Great Hall Renovation Project

Officials are asking Denver City Council to approve the proposed final phase, which would push completion to 2028 and more than double the initial projected cost.

Ahead of another busy holiday travel weekend, Denver International Airport officials revealed proposed contract additions to complete the final phase of the Great Hall renovation project—and they’re asking Denver City Council for a pretty big gift to do it.

In all, airport leadership is requesting approval of an additional $1.1 billion to finish the terminal renovation. The proposed contract amendments were handed to the Denver City Council business and aviation services committee last Thursday. The new plan, which details the third and final phase of the Jeppesen Terminal renovations, would more than double the initial $770 million budget, bringing the anticipated cost of the entire Great Hall Project to $2.1 billion and extending the timeline until 2028.

“I’m a firm believer that when you have an opportunity to finish a job and do it right,” CEO Phil Washington said at a press conference Thursday. “We believe that what we’re doing here is doing it right.”

Washington took over the endeavor this past summer, after the project had been plagued with disputes over delays and budgetary challenges. Washington and DIA leadership are proposing the revised completion phase—which would create a new security checkpoint on the northeast upper level and rebuild the airline ticketing areas, among other things—to bring back a number of elements from the original plan that had to be scaled back last year when DIA terminated its contract with the project’s original partners.

“We feel like this is the best time to finish what we started,” DIA senior vice president for special projects Michael Sheeha said Thursday. “This terminal, this airport, is 26 years old right now, [and] is showing signs of age. A new terminal sets us up, if you will, for the next 20 or 30 years.”

Roughly 69 million annual passengers were traveling through the airport before the pandemic, a number that’s only expected to rise in coming years, with DIA even clocking in as the third busiest airport in the world during the first half of 2021.

With new contractors Hensel Phelps Construction on board and phase one of the terminal renovation complete as of late November, work on phase two is now underway, including moving the south Level 5 security checkpoint to an expanded northwest corner on Level 6. The proposed third phase would begin in 2024. Both Washington and Sheehan emphasized that the conservative timeline for the final phase is intentional so that spaces can open as they’re completed, keeping construction from creating as many bottlenecks for travelers as it did during the first phase.

Previously slashed concepts for the great hall completion phase, like a “mall” area, were left out of the new proposal. A notable addition, however, involved $40 million for a Center of Excellence and Equity in Aviation—an education and career development space that would sit in Level 4 of the adjoining Westin Denver International Airport Hotel.

“[The Center of Excellence], I think, is right in the scope of what we ought to be doing,” Washington said. “We have worker shortages in the aviation industry. We have worker shortages here. We have pilot shortages.We have maintenance shortages. I can’t go anywhere and just order up 10 maintenance folks who work on aircraft. We have to grow our own [industry].”

The requested $1.1 billion would come from DIA’s revenue, instead of taxes. Washington said Thursday that he also anticipates benefiting from the $25 billion in federal aviation spending, part of the $1 trillion infrastructure package passed by Congress in November. He even expressed interest in applying for hundreds of millions in additional federal grant money available through the package, which he says he felt DIA was in a strong position to receive.

“Look at the remote revitalization models of all the airports in this country. We can not afford to fall behind” Washington said. “We’ve got airlines that have decided to invest in the Rocky Mountain region. We need to make sure that our airport is state-of-the-art.”

While Denver City Council has expressed interest in at least ensuring the completion of security checkpoints, several councilmembers have voiced their hesitancy over the costs of the new proposal. Unless a member invokes a delay option, the council will vote on whether or not to give the $1.1 billion additions the green light after the holidays, on January 3.

(Read more: Your Guide to Surviving DIA During the Holidays

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