Costs for luxury hotel and upgrades at DIA prompt complaints from airlines

Rising costs may mean fewer options for travelers

DENVER - Airlines say that rising costs could mean fewer options for travelers.

Current renovations, which include a luxury hotel and a new transit center connecting the airport with downtown via bus lines and a new light rail, are expected to cost around $544 million.

Another $75 million is allotted to add capacity to the train terminal or concourse as well as several other construction projects. The other upgrades were chosen for efficiency and will take advantage of the construction already happening instead of starting a new project five or ten or more years down the road.

Airlines, represented by a committee, wrote a letter to DIA expressing their concerns about how costs could affect their competitiveness in the Denver travel market.

DIA's finance chief, Patrick Heck, responded to the letter, stating that "critical maintenance" efforts were put off to help cut costs.

The airport tweeted Tuesday morning that the new "hotel is funded by DIA revenues from parking and concessions. Airfield maintenance is funded by airlines."

Another tweet said that "'critical maintenance' includes grease traps, carpet & tile replacement. Airfield maint. is absolutely a DIA priority."

Stacey Stegman from DIA said that airlines are still responsible for paying for some facility maintenance and repairs and upgrades. 

"The hotel and transit center construction does not affect the airline fees," Stegman said. "[The hotel and the facility maintenance are] paid for from two completely different pots of money."

Stegman also stressed that the airport's operations budget is increasing at a lower rate since 2011. Between 2007 and 2011, the budget was growing at a rate of seven percent. Since 2011 it has been growing at a rate of three percent.

"It's fair of them to say that they're watching the budget and they're concerned," she said. "That makes sense and that's why we work closely with them."

The Denver Post also reported that DIA officials denied there are overruns or that there is any connection between project costs and maintenance cuts.

Airlines manage movable operations and run on thin profit margins. If the Denver airport becomes too costly, carriers can take their flight service elsewhere.

Three airlines — United, Southwest and Frontier — use Denver as their Rocky Mountain hub, making DIA the nation's fifth-busiest airport. That lowers fares and increases direct flight options.

The airlines offer nearly 563,000 flights yearly connecting through Denver to 185 cities and pay about two-thirds of the airport's $370 million budget.

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