Denver airport weighs options to revive cut Great Hall component

Denver city officials are looking to add back a major relocation of one of the airport’s security checkpoints less than five months after it was cut from the Great Hall terminal project to save money.

In November, more than a year after Denver International Airport and city leaders terminated the original project contract, officials scaled down the renovation to stay within the $770 million budget. Given the structural requirements to relocate DIA’s two main passenger-screening checkpoints from lower Level 5 to expanded spaces on Level 6, they said they could afford to move just the south checkpoint — and the other relocation would have to wait for another day.

That day may come much sooner than expected, CEO Kim Day and project officials told a Denver City Council committee Wednesday afternoon.

“What we’re doing is talking about doing it quicker — doing it now — with the mayor,” Day said.

No decision has been made, but Cristal DeHerrera, the airport’s chief of staff, noted that when the project was scaled back last fall, several council members nonetheless expressed an eagerness to finish the security relocation when possible.

Mayor Michael Hancock has pushed DIA to evaluate the possibility of an additional project phase to finish security sooner, DeHerrera said.

So far big questions remain unanswered, including how much it would cost to expand the upper level to accommodate a checkpoint to replace the current north screening area — though it’s sure to be substantial — and whether that work would happen concurrently, or after the first relocation is complete. Day and DeHerrera said the evaluation will look at those details. They plan to share more in late summer or early fall.

One impetus for the terminal renovation was to address the security checkpoints’ vulnerability beneath balconies and upper-level walkways. The solution was to move them to the north ends of the terminal’s Level 6, in spaces now occupied by some airline check-in counters.

“Moving both sides up to Level 6 has always been the cornerstone of this project,” DeHerrera told the committee Wednesday. “And it’s also an essential part of accommodating DEN’s continued growth.”

DIA posted its lowest passenger traffic in decades in 2020, but its recovery from the pandemic has tracked ahead of most major airports.

The airport operates as a city-owned enterprise, generating its own revenue from fees and other sources. Though it likely would pay for any project addition from its own pockets — or by seeking federal aid — DIA would need the council’s approval.

The Great Hall project got underway in 2018, with a pause in late 2019 when DIA hired a new contracting team. The scaled-down project includes the building of modern check-in areas for United and Southwest airlines, new bathrooms and other renovations throughout the giant building.

Completion is set for early 2024, more than two years beyond the original schedule.

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