DENVER (CBS4)– Denver International Airport leaders Thursday tried to make the case for the need for a $1.1 billion addition to the Great Hall reconstruction project. The total cost of the project is expected to be $1.3 billion, DIA officials say.

As part of the $1.1 billion request, $40 million would go to the Center for Excellence and Equity. Airport officials say $200 million will cover “direct costs” such as quality insurance, inspection, permits and fees.

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“This is the best time to finish what we started. This terminal and this airport and this airport is 26 years old and is showing its age,” said CEO Phil Washington. “A new terminal sets us up for the next 20 or 30 years.”

Years when the airport is estimated to see an increase of 30% in passenger traffic to as many as 100 million a year. The airport needs city council approval as it hopes to float bonds that would be repaid with airport fees on things like passenger travel and parking. A business committee has already signed off on the plan.

“I’ve been around a lot of projects where folks do it halfway and all of that. No, we need to do it right for the benefit of our region,” said Washington.

It comes after rough sledding in the early part of the Great Hall project that resulted in disbanding a public-private partnership with Great Hall Partners that was abruptly ended in 2019 amid overruns and delays with only 25 percent of the construction done.

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The Great Hall Project is split into three phases. Phase One concluded in October with renovated check-in areas for United, Southwest and Frontier Airlines and new bathrooms.

Phase Two now underway means a new security checkpoint on Level Six which was a big part of the plea for the original renewal, to eliminate large open areas where passengers are screened.

The airport was designed and put into use before 9/11 and security needs have changed. The total cost of this third phase will be $1.1 billion to $1.3 billion depending upon whether the cost of constructing a “Center of Excellence and Equity in Aviation” as an employment training facility is added in. Phases One and Two are expected to add up to $770 million.

“There wasn’t enough money to do the complete project as it was originally envisioned,” said At-large councilwoman Debbie Ortega, who voted against Phase One. “The sticker shock is concerned but I think many of us on the council are trying to do our due diligence.”

That means questioning whether the hefty price tag is all necessary.

“We also have to make sure that we don’t create that tipping point there the affordability of the airport doesn’t meet the average traveler.”

Council member Kevin Flynn stated in an email, “I see some scope elements that I would question the worth, although I wouldn’t call them ‘fat.’ For instance, do we need to update all of the baggage claim carousels on Level 5?”

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Flynn noted the growth cited by Washington as important in redesign.

“The airport was designed for 50 million passengers with 60% of them only stopping on the concourses to change planes,” he stated via email. “But we’ve seen Denver-based origination and destination passengers instead constituting 60% and more of passengers. That means more than 40 million people are going in and out of the Jeppesen Terminal instead of the 20 million for which it was designed.”

Ortega too noted the importance of setting up for the future with growth ahead, “Obviously trying to get it complete in a way that addresses the functionality of moving people throughout the Great Hall.”

The full council has yet to vote on the issue, but that vote could be ahead in a few weeks.

Alan Gionet