DIA unveils scaled-down plans to finish Great Hall project

Denver International Airport’s scaled-down $170 million plan to finish its Great Hall terminal renovation would salvage part of the original security relocation plans — while leaving a costly chunk of the project for another day.

The upshot of the plan unveiled Monday is that DIA’s two major security checkpoints, now both on the main floor, would be clustered near each other on the north end of the terminal. One would stay put where it is now, on Level 5, while the south screening area would be moved upstairs to an expanded configuration on Level 6, in an area now occupied by ticket counters on the building’s west side.

Ditched, for now, is the plan to also build a second large checkpoint in the northeast corner of Level 6, which would have moved all screening upstairs.

DIA officials this week will ask Denver City Council to advance a contract amendment for the project’s Phase 2, which would finish out the now-$770 million renovation. The first phase, picked up by a new contracting team after the airport terminated the original team late last year, is underway in central areas of the massive, tented-roof terminal building, which opened in 1995. That work is expected to wrap in late 2021.

But uncertainty long has surrounded Phase 2. The Denver Post reported in August that the budget crunch threatened to nix major components of the original plan, especially the security relocation.

While the scaled-down plan includes a net addition of five screening lanes compared to what DIA has now — and room for newer, more efficient types of equipment — DIA officials say it won’t be enough to absorb all the growth in passenger traffic that’s forecast in coming years. At least, that is, once the coronavirus pandemic ends and passenger traffic recovers from the major dip it’s caused.

That means DIA and city officials, at some point, likely will need to create a new project to build more screening space — and figure out how to pay for it. Airport CEO Kim Day wasn’t sure when the second upstairs checkpoint would be needed.

She and Michael Sheehan, DIA’s senior vice president for special projects, also declined to estimate what it would cost, though the amount is significant enough — requiring a steel-intensive extension of the Level 6 floor plate into the central atrium — that DIA couldn’t afford it now.

“We know that we are going to eventually be hitting the 80 million or 90 million passengers a year — we just don’t know when,” she said. Last year, traffic through DIA hit 69 million.

Even with the scale-back, Day said, the project “increases the capacity of the ticket lobbies and the checkpoints,” fulfilling the Great Hall project’s mission for several years.

While expansion projects chug along on DIA’s concourses, officials earlier acknowledged that only enough money remained beyond the Great Hall project’s Phase 1 for about a quarter of the remaining work, the result of extensive overruns.

That project’s original budget was $650 million, and following last year’s termination, Day committed to keeping the revamped project to no more than $770 million, which would exhaust the project’s large contingency fund.

The new upper-level screening area will be on the side of the terminal dominated by United Airlines’ check-in counters.

Above the remaining main floor checkpoint, DIA plans to install additional fortifications to make it less vulnerable from the walkways above. DIA also will maintain its third security checkpoint on the bridge to Concourse A.

After the south checkpoint is relocated upstairs, Day said, the contractors will, as originally envisioned, build out a “meeter-and-greeter” plaza to create a more welcoming community-type space where transit users and hotel guests enter the terminal.

During the first phase, lead contractor Hensel Phelps Construction has worked under a $195 million contract to finish work begun by Great Hall Partners in mid-2018. Led by Madrid-based Ferrovial Airports, that team’s 34-year public-private partnership was canceled following disputes over cost overruns, construction delays and its own claims of project meddling by DIA officials.

DIA’s proposed contract amendment would add $170 million to Hensel Phelps’ contract for Phase 2 work, which also includes upgrading escalators, refreshing finishes throughout the terminal, and upgrading the ventilation, lighting and fire-safety systems. It will have until April 2024 to finish, but Sheehan said most work will be done in 2023.

That would put the scaled-back project’s completion at two years later than the original project was supposed to be done, in late 2021.

Among other work, Hensel Phelps and other contractors have finished expanding the central portions of Level 6 on both the east and west sides by extending those floor plates partway into the central atrium.

Crews are now building out significantly enlarged and upgraded check-in areas for United and Southwest Airlines, the airport’s largest carriers, with self-serve areas given more space. But airlines with smaller operations won’t get similar upgrades or expanded check-in areas on the south ends of Level 6, as they’d been promised by the original plan.

DIA also has reduced the scope of its concessions plans. Officials say they won’t build as many new food and retail outlets as they and Great Hall Partners had envisioned for the terminal in a controversial bid to generate revenue.

“When we scale back retail and restaurants, it no longer is going to have that mall feel that the former developer had” envisioned, said DIA chief of staff Cristal DeHerrera. “We still will have a lot of good food and beverage and coffee options pre-security.”

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