Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep Westword’s future free.
Yes, Mayor Michael Hancock made a huge mistake leaving Denver on Thanksgiving Night after telling Denver employees and residents to stay home.
But much bigger mistakes have been made at Denver International Airport, and the most recent have occurred on Hancock’s watch. The disastrous deal with the Great Hall Project should never have been approved, and this debacle cannot be blamed for following your “heart, not your head.”
More like the eagerness to empty wallets.
In August 2017, Denver signed a 34-year deal with Ferrovial Airports to lead Great Hall Partners, an alliance that paved the way for a $ 1.8 billion project to remodel the Jeppeson Terminal at Denver International Airport A giant privately owned mall (and airport, incidentally) that would capture the shopping dollars of a trapped audience of travelers trapped behind security. Ferrovial, a Spain-based multinational, has touted the $ 650 million deal as its debut in the US airport market and “opened up new opportunities in public-private partnership” on its website.
No joke: Before the DIA deal, Ferrovial had mainly operated two offshore refugee camps in this country for the Australian government, which Amnesty International described as “Islands of Despair”.
And there was a lot of despair before Denver severed ties with Great Hall Partners as parts of that crumbling partnership made their way off the island – built on poor quality concrete, Ferrovial said, just in one of his many excuses, falling behind at work to guess.
In August 2019, the city finally announced to Great Hall Partners that it was canceling the 34-year contract … 32 years earlier. Ultimately, Denver paid $ 245 million to get out of business – $ 105.6 million for engineering and construction already completed and another $ 139.7 million to get rid of the company for good.
“We teamed up with the wrong people,” Hancock admitted this fall. “I realized very much that these guys were trying to play the city. We have unraveled. “
At the price of a lot of money, time and not a little credibility. The deal had looked too good to be true, and it was. If Hancock had followed his head and looked carefully at what his airport officials were considering – for 34 years! – Maybe he realized that. If he’d followed his heart, he might have realized that the iconic Great Hall deserved it better. But he was too busy for the grandiose plan to work. And even when his competitors warned of turbulence and problems at the airport in the 2019 Mayor’s Race, Hancock held on. It was enough to make you reach for the barf bag.
On December 7th, the Denver City Council is expected to review the revised contracts and plans with new partners for Phase 2 of the Great Hall postferrovial project, which the committee approved last week. “Although the Great Hall project encountered some early challenges,” said airport CEO Kim Day in a status statement in the understatement of the decade, “the project is back on track and we have made significant progress in Phase 1 over the past year. ”
The revised Phase 1 provides for the construction of new ticket sales areas in the middle of Level 6 for United and Southwest Airlines. This job should be completed by the end of next year. In the meantime, phase 2 will begin. It focuses on greater security – the main rationale for the Great Hall project before it turned into another Mall of America, though one is largely behind protective glass and the potential reach of terrorists. Originally, both the north and south security checkpoints were to be relocated from the Great Hall to Level 6 to free up more shopping space, but in order to meet the budget of $ 770 million for these phases, the north security checkpoint must remain where it is is now, and the southern security checkpoint will be moved to level 6 directly above.
Still, there are some bright spots in the revised plans.
“It will no longer feel like a shopping mall that the former developer had,” said DIA chief of staff Cristal Torres DeHerrera during a virtual tour of the project last week. “But we still have plenty of good options for food, drink, and coffee before security.”
As originally planned, the Great Hall was all about gatherings in front of security, a huge space where people waiting for travelers could comfortably hang out. A space as wide open as the west where incoming visitors would experience Colorado for the first time. But in 2001, just six years after the much-belated DIA opened with that grand and glorious Great Hall, the land was immobilized until September 11th. The security systems put in place during the hijackings in the 1970s were oversized across the country. In Denver, the new TSA system ultimately filled much of the floor space of the Great Hall. Other realities of air travel over the next two decades – such as the increasing number of do-it-yourself check-ins – opened up spaces that no longer required ticket counters. Instead, the Great Hall Project’s original plans would move security to level 6 with the latest technology and open the Great Hall to … More than half of which are reserved for customers after security.
Of course, since that plan was passed, there has been another unexpected turn in travel: the pandemic that has decimated air traffic. DIA, the airport designed for up to 50 million travelers, recorded a time of 69 million in 2019. The growth in traffic had already inspired projects in the halls, including the 39-gate program to expand the $ 1.5 billion gate, which so far has been completed without a hitch program (but also without a Ferrovial partner). At the beginning of the pandemic, air traffic fell to 5 percent compared to the previous year. DIA now expects 40 percent fewer passengers in 2021 than two years ago – and better than at many other airports.
But even if the pandemic ends, travelers’ habits are likely to change. For starters, they’ll be more focused on getting to their destination than getting an offer for socks at the airport.
And the city is belatedly paying attention to it. “We have to change,” Hancock said six months after the pandemic. “We are in constant consultation with airlines and airline experts.” Better late than never … although it could have saved the city money and months, even years of construction, if he’d gotten his head into play a few years earlier.
Despite all the odds, Denver International Airport – which seemed like a distant gamble in the late 1980s – has paid off for the city. Says Hancock, “It’s still where passengers want to fly in and out.”
Except on Thanksgiving Eve, when the mayor told you to stay home.
Keep Westword Free … Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we want to keep it that way. We offer our readers free access to concise coverage of local news, food and culture. Produce stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands with bold reporting, stylish writing, and staff who have won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Feature-Writing Award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism . With the existence of local journalism under siege and setbacks having a greater impact on advertising revenue, it is more important than ever for us to raise support for funding our local journalism. You can help by joining our “I Support” membership program which allows us to continue to cover Denver without paywalls.
Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; She has been an editor since then. She regularly participates in the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a true journalist in John Sayles’ Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton in flip-flops, and received numerous national awards for her columns and feature writing.