Jan 12, 2022 - News

Great Hall Project at DIA will shape new leader's legacy

Phil Washington, who has served as chief executive of Denver International Airport since July 2021. Photo: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Just six months into the job, Denver International Airport's brand new CEO may have his legacy on the line.

Driving the news: The Denver City Council this week approved Phil Washington's vision to spend another $1.1 billion to complete the Great Hall project at DIA, doubling its overall cost to $2.3 billion and pushing construction completion from 2024 to 2028.

Why it matters: The project has faced serious problems in the past, and Washington will face certain scrutiny when it comes to delivering the massive undertaking since DIA is Colorado's largest economic engine and the world's third-busiest airport.

What they're saying: "We will do it on time and on budget," Washington tells Axios. In fact, he says, "I'm pretty confident we'll do it ahead of schedule."

  • He adds: "Nothing keeps me up at night" about this project. "What would keep me up is not bringing this action knowing [passenger] numbers will increase."

Washington points to his 25 years in the U.S. Army and two decades of infrastructure building to back up his confidence in meeting the project deadline.

  • He also notes several other projects he led as the former head of the Regional Transportation District — like building Union Station, the A-line to the airport and the West line to Lakewood — that he says were finished ahead of schedule and under budget.

Yes, but: Cracks in communication may already be emerging at the outset of the project's final phase.

  • Council member Amanda Sawyer, who voted against the expansion on Monday, suggested plans were rushed and lacked transparency.
  • Washington, however, tells Axios his team has been "very, very transparent," providing the council "with all the information they have asked" and "answer[ing] all of the questions they asked us."

What to watch: During Monday's meeting, council member Paul Kashmann called for an "in-depth look [into the deal] by a fully objective third party" in light of "the mess that preceded it."

  • Only time — and in this case, several years worth — will tell whether Washington delivers ahead of schedule and under budget, but his team will likely face tough questions as they publicly report on progress in the interim.

Of note: Council members haven't been afraid to challenge Washington in the past, as they did over his appointment last July after Axios first reported he was named in a criminal search warrant and tied to public corruption allegations in Los Angeles, where he had been most recently employed.

This story first appeared in the Axios Denver newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard. Subscribe here.

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