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The boondoggle to end all boondoggles

DIA: Denver’s Favorite Money Pit? 

Hey, it’s Bree! You know, from the podcast.

It’s that time of year when some of us get all stressed out about lots of stuff — like traveling. Considering DIA saw more than 24 million passengers in the first half of this year and was the third busiest dang airport IN THE WORLD, I’m guessing that at some point you’ll be driving that I-70 road to nowhere just to pick up your brother who flew in from Oakland. Er, that’s me. I just did that.

But if you’ve lived here for, oh, longer than six months, you might know that our airport is a lil’ controversial (and I’m not talking about the conspiracy stuff, which you had to know was bunk once the tourism boosters got a hold of it.) No, no — it’s much more controversial because it has to do with Denver and money, a thing we like to throw at big, shiny projects that don’t really need it, while unsexy things like broken sidewalks stay, well, broken.

Recently, DIA asked for (more) money — to the tune of $1.1 billion, to be exact — for the Great Hall, a project approved in 2017 that may never see a full completion in my lifetime. (Kinda like FasTracks.) The $1.1 billion dollar price tag might not be so bad if the airport hadn’t already spend a gazillion dollars on it.

Like many big money projects in Denver, some of us have been watching the DIA Great Hall project saga like it’s our job. But if you haven’t, here’s a quick rundown, courtesy of a zillion great articles written by Jon Murray at the Denver Post:

  • In August of 2017, Denver City Council signed off on a $1.8 billion, 34-year public-private partnership colloquially known as The Great Hall Project. The proposal was to do stuff like improve/relocate security screening areas, consolidate airline ticketing areas, and basically, add a fancy food court/mall and pre-security in Jeppesen Terminal.
  • By February of 2019, construction on the project had slowed, with potential months-long delays due to weak concrete. (The project was originally slated to be done by November of 2021, lol.) 
  • In June of 2019, DIA and its contractors had entered mediation — basically, they were fighting over issues related to delays from the weak concrete, along with other labor disputes, safety concerns, and how much the rest of the Great Hall work was going to cost, etc. At this point, the completion date had been pushed to… 2025. 
  • Then, in August of 2019, DIA fired the construction partners who were working on the Great Hall. This meant work had stopped on the project and frankly, the airport was a mess for travelers. Oh, and it would cost the airport hundreds of millions of dollars to back out of these contracts — in total, it would end up costing $184 million, to be exact.
  • Throughout 2020, problems with the Great Hall got worse — whole sections of the project were cut and then replaced, like plans to move security checkpoints. All the while, questions continued to surface, like, who was steering this ship anyway? 
  • In December of 2020, the city auditor was like, what are you guys doing over there? Why are the bathrooms broken and gross when there’s billions being spent on expanding this place?
  • Magically, by May of 2021, DIA CEO Kim Day had decided to retire. Excellent timing! It’s almost like she knew this boondoggle was never going to end. 
  • By October of this year, Mayor Hancock was out at DIA for a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The project was still far from over, but phase one was complete! We got some shiny new floors in there and self-check kiosks. 
  • Which leads us to right now — DIA officials are now asking for another billion-plus in funding for the never-ending Great Hall project and have estimated the completion date to be somewhere in… 2028. And guess what we’ll be getting? More security checkpoints in different places. Sure hope they look as cool as that multi-million dollar collection of light sticks that are just an advertisement for Panasonic.

— Bree Davies, City Cast Denver Host and Forever Skeptic of DIA’s Cash Flow