Denver sends $1 billion more to the DIA black hole
Denver’s favorite money pit gets another cool billion bucks
Hey! It’s Bree.
Monday night, Denver City Council approved a series of contracts that would slide another $1.1 billion over to Denver International Airport. You know, because that big ol’ money pit sitting out in the fields halfway to Kansas needed more cash.
But seriously – the project was already over budget, had missed its own deadlines for completion, and had been mismanaged to the point that DIA had to pay the original contractors to “go away,” to quote Kyle Clark. (If you need to catch up on the saga of one of Denver’s greatest boondoggles, I wrote a timeline of the airport’s many renovation debacles in this newsletter last month.)
City Council voted 10-3 to approve this latest stash of cash, with council members Candi CdeBaca, Amanda Sawyer, and Paul Kashmann being the “no” votes. While I can understand how this puts council in a sticky situation — you can’t just leave a construction project sitting there, half finished — it also has me wondering: Why do we let these things happen? And why does Denver have zero problems seeing millions of dollars wasted on “fixing” things (that don’t necessarily need fixing) when we have so many things that do need fixing?
The thing is, DIA is a moneymaker. As Jon Murray at The Denver Post points out: “DIA pays for its projects by tapping its own revenue streams as well as federal funding — which officials say could provide a sizable assist for the Great Hall work.” But when it comes to how cities work, I mean, just because something makes a lot of money doesn’t mean it should get all the money.
There’s something unsettling about knowing that our airport is spending billions to put in expensive flooring that looks like snow or whatever, when we have neighborhoods missing sidewalks, people going without basic necessities like shelter, a transit system that could use a major overhaul, and… I digress.
This is sort of the “Denver way,” after all. The Denver I have grown up in seems to attract the kinds of leaders who are always drooling over what we don’t have. It’s like Denver has never been comfortable to just be itself – it’s always chasing some shiny bauble or multi-zillion dollar project that might make us look bigger and brighter than any other city. We’re so insecure, and it shows in things like the financial black hole that is our airport.
Thinking about way back in the 1980s when then-Mayor Federico Peña asked us to “Imagine a Great City,” I wonder: What was it about Denver that made him so ashamed that we needed to imagine we were someplace else? After all, his Disney-like imagineering is what brought us DIA in the first place. But I also think about how, less than 10 years before Peña’s imagination was going wild, we were the same city that voted to demolish the entire community of Auraria, one of the most vibrant pockets of our own city. Denver has trouble liking itself, so much so that we will go to destructive and expensive lengths just to not face who we really are.
And not to just pick on Peña – other leaders have failed to imagine a Denver with actual needs, too. Mayor Wellington Webb wasn’t too keen on our history. His administration tried to turn Red Rocks into a corporate advertising nightmare and stood by as I.M. Pei’s Hyperbolic Paraboloid was demolished. Mayor John Hickenlooper took us on a road to nowhere with his “Denver’s Road Home,” a 10-year plan to end homelessness that simply didn’t end it. (Not to mention how much of Denver’s land-speculation-turned-gentrification started on Hick’s watch.)
In his first year in office, Mayor Michael Hancock proclaimed that we had the potential to be a “a world-class city where everyone matters,” and yet, in the last decade he’s been in office, we’ve seen our houseless community swell, whole communities displaced, and rents and housing costs become oppressively out-of-reach. Just last year, Denver said no to Hancock’s bid to shove a multi-million dollar arena into a neighborhood that has been asking for a grocery store for decades.
So here we are, watching as DIA gets plumped up with another billion bucks. I suppose those shiny new floors and fancy security gates will enhance the experience for out-of-towners as they land in almost-Kansas — I mean Denver. And really, that’s who so much of the things Denver spends money on are really for – impressing visitors and ignoring the locals. Enjoy your billions, DIA.
— Bree Davies, City Cast Denver Host and Local Curmudgeon
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