The vote on nearly $160 million in Denver International Airport renovation contracts came nearly unanimously, but with a wave of wariness.
In the wake of a $1.8 billion deal gone sideways with the airport’s original contractors Great Hall Partners, granting five companies multi-million-dollar contracts was a risk for Denver City Council, and they let the airport know it during Tuesday evening’s council meeting.
“I share with a lot of the public the same sort of anxiety that this will be the path forward that gets it done on budget and in less time,” said Councilman Kevin Flynn, who chairs the aviation committee.
Flynn supported the public-private partnership in 2017, but what unfolded at the airport this year put him “in a position of regretting that, given the circumstances of what happened,” he said.
Now presents a critical opportunity, Flynn said, to “air our laundry and find out what did we do wrong?”
“I think it’s very essential that before this Council is asked to support another P3 project, even outside of the airport, that the airport produces a robust [report] – not just a lessons learned – but an autopsy, if you will, on what went wrong … before we will undertake this kind of venture again.”
DIA officials assured the Council that the airport is committed to accountability and transparency. As an example, they pointed to ongoing work to create an online dashboard on flydenver.com that the public can use to track the status of the Great Hall project.
“In the past 90 days we’ve accomplished more on this project than what has happened in the last year,” said Cristal Torres DeHerrera, the airport’s chief of staff. “To stand before you today with five contracts that we have done in just a short period of time … is a true testament to how quickly and how decisively we are moving.”
Of the five companies awarded contracts, three were local, including Denver-based Gilmore Construction. The business is owned by the brother-in-law of Councilwoman Stacie Gilmore, who abstained in the 11-0-1 vote. Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca was absent.
The other two contracts were with multinational companies, including Stantec, which was selected for design work.
The companies are filling many of the gaps left by Great Hall Partners, but not all of them. A major agreement with a sixth company, general contractor Hensel Phelps, will be brought before Council early next year.
“Both Stantec and Hensel Phelps were selected because of their commitment to … bringing thoughtful proposals with creative cost-savings ideas to the table,” said DIA CEO Kim Day in an earlier statement.
Councilwoman Deborah Ortega asked if DIA will have reached a settlement agreement with Great Hall Partners by the time the contract’s up for a vote. That amount, she said, “determines how much we have to scale the project back.”
“We would hope for that to be the case, but … it’s complicated,” DeHerrera said.
She said the airport estimates, on the “safe” side, to have the resolution finalized in the first quarter of the year.
DIA will have to pay Great Hall Partners up to $210 million for canceling their contract, according to The Denver Post.
Remodeling of DIA’s main terminal began in 2018, with the goal of transforming the Great Hall into a high-end retail and restaurant operation for travelers after passing through security.
The airport has now doubled the number of workers on the renovation project, and a new budget and completion date are expected next year.
The original budget of $770 million approved by Denver City Council has not changed, airport officials have said.