By Jeff Todd

DENVER (CBS4) – Denver International Airport is moving forward with plans to remove a large and now controversial piece of art in the middle of the Concourse C but not everyone is onboard.

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“This piece has been particularly problematic and it’s reached a point where it’s both dangerous for people traveling and very cost prohibitive for a maintenance schedule,” said Heath Montgomery, a spokesman for the airport.

CBS4’s Jeff Todd interviews Heath Montgomery. (credit: CBS)

The piece in question is called “Interior Garden” by Michael Singer and stretches between the two train platforms. The piece is described by passersby as “urban renewal theme” as vegetation grows around concrete structures.

Singer says he didn’t know the airport was trying to get rid of his piece until last month when he received a formal letter from the airport’s Chief Executive Officer Kim Day.

The airport has now officially asked the city to deaccession the piece, but the Commission on Cultural Affairs voted against it.

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“No, I do not support the deaccession and I was very pleased to hear that the Commission on Cultural Affairs voted 15 to 3 against the deaccession as well. The Garden is a very special piece for many travelers and it’s reassuring to know that the commission values this piece as much as I do,” Singer said in an email to CBS4.

The commission has suggested the artist and the airport find a common ground to keep the piece thriving but tensions may not allow that. The cost of the project doubled as it was installed in the early 1990s and costs between the airport and the artist have never aligned since.

(credit: CBS)

The final decision on deaccession will be made by Kent Rice, the Executive Director of Denver Arts and Venues, and he’s accepting public comment through May 16. Visit to comment.

Airport Is Fed Up With Costs

Airport officials say the time for the piece has run out because it’s become too expensive to maintain.

“The airport over the last 22 years has had a lot of problems with this ranging from leaks and pests to safety hazard,” said Montgomery. “It literally is a garden, so there’s a layer of top soil there’s an irrigation system, there were sprinklers at one point and we’ve seen failures at all those points along the way.”

(credit: CBS)

The airport calculates maintenance over the past two decades has totaled more than $800,000 including being replanted six times and constant care. The infrastructure for the piece is non-existent and now requires hand watering which is costing nearly $15,000 per year.

“Over the years we’ve brought in architects, construction experts, irrigation experts and we also brought in experts from the Denver Botanic Gardens. Some of the best minds of this topic. And what they’ve told us is we’ve done an extremely good job up keeping what we have given extremely challenging conditions, but the artist prescribes that we use certain types of tropical plants. They don’t thrive in Colorado’s environment and they certainly don’t thrive in an airport environment under a covered roof. So we’ve brought in a lot of experts over the years who say the same thing we think, it’s just not doable anymore.”

Artist Wants To See His Work Stay

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The Public Art Policy Committee did not support the request for deaccession and recommended the artist and the airport work together. Those recommendations were reviewed by the Commission on Cultural Affairs and many of its members agreed saying new technology could help the piece thrive.

“In my letters to the airport and the Commission on Cultural Affairs I suggested several ways the garden can be restored and enhanced. My suggestions cost far less than the airport’s estimate to remove the Garden. I am confident we can all work together on some creative solutions to the airport’s concerns and I look forward to collaborating with the airport staff,” singer said.

(credit: CBS)

The DCCA review on May 8 says the airport estimates the cost to remove the artwork would be $650,000. Singer believes revitalizing the piece would only cost $250,000. The airport believes the cost would be much higher and doesn’t account for long term maintenance.

“It’s perceived that the airport and their 3rd-party contractors have not tended to the artwork with a continuous and proactive effort over it’s lifespan,” the DCCA wrote. “DEN should explore ways in which to expand Concourse C while also maintaining the integrity of the artwork before seeking deaccession.”

“This piece was groundbreaking in 1993 and remains so today,” Singer said.

Future Of C Concourse

The airport admits one reason it wants to seek deaccession is because the piece of art is taking up too much space in the bustling and busy C Concourse.

The total art itself makes up about 12,000 square feet there’s two different sides on the elevated level then there’s floor in the center where people actually get off the trains that’s also part of the art,” Montgomery said.

(credit: CBS)

The airport says plans are not finalized for what the middle of the C Concourse would look like, but if deaccession is granted the airport will put $400,000 toward new art around the same area.

Southwest Airlines started operations at DIA about a decade ago, since then it’s become the fourth largest hub for the airline.

“We think, as a facility, we need about 50,000 more square feet today to accommodate the number of people coming through here both for concessions and people moving through here,” Montgomery said.

(credit: CBS)

There is no timetable for either construction in the C Concourse or when Executive Director Rice will make the deaccession decision.

“This piece was groundbreaking in 1993 and remains so today,” Singer said.

“For us the math doesn’t quite add up and we think there is a better and higher use of public funds,” Montgomery said.

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Jeff Todd joined the CBS4 team in 2011 covering the Western Slope in the Mountain Newsroom. Since 2015 he’s been working across the Front Range in the Denver Headquarters. Follow him on Twitter @CBS4Jeff.