Tensions boil, trust builds in Airport City discussions

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Longtime frustrations and concerns simmered to the surface in the second round of open talks between Denver and Adams County officials charged with negotiating plans for an Airport City around Denver International Airport.

The April 11 Airport Consultation Committee meeting, however, ended — unlike past talks that stalled between Adams County and Denver officials — with a unified agreement to several cooperation principles and talks of a planned visit to the Airport City development at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

“As painful as it sometimes is to have a little bit of the dissention at the table, we need that to move forward,” Commerce City Mayor Sean Ford said.

The challenge, committee facilitator Tom Clark said, is building trust and fostering open discussions in three specific areas: land, infrastructure and money.

“There’s a lot of electricity in the air here,” Clark said. “I believe that this process will get us to a place where we can begin to work with one another on a more informal and trustworthy basis, but it’s not going to happen today. It’s going to happen by putting pieces in place where we can develop trust with one another over time.”

Some Adams County officials say the tiff stems from deeply rooted commitments that were, at one time, promised but never delivered or followed through completely by Denver officials.

An example of this, Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan said, is the now-stalled plan to build the $824 million Gaylord hotel and convention center just south of DIA.

Another equally frustrating element, Commerce City Mayor Sean Ford said, is the absence of the city’s long-promised on-ramp from southbound Tower Road to southbound Pena Boulevard.

“If we say, ‘Yes, make the airport more attractive. Yes, make the airport more open to development,’ the question that is going to come from it is, `What is the result,’” Hogan said to Denver Mayor Michael Hancock during the meeting.

“If the result is that it turns out to be similar to history, and I grant you history doesn’t and shouldn’t have to repeat itself, the history has been not a lot of cooperation from Denver to suburbs and a lot of cooperation from the suburbs to Denver — usually Denver gets it first and the suburbs get it second.”

Hancock, however, argued that Denver has made significant regional contributions to the High Point community development along South Reservoir Road and East Quincy Avenue in Aurora and said the “you versus us model” outlined by Hogan was “outdated, outmoded and antiquated.”

The region, he said, has the capability to “wipe everybody off the stage” by kick starting development within the airport’s periphery and creating malleable agreements to evolve with changing demands.

“The land, location, opportunity, work force and innovation is moving to this part of the world… and that’s what’s frustrating about these conversations,” Hancock said. “We’re so focused here (inside the airport’s boundary) when we ought to be focused here (outside the airport’s boundary). If we can come to an agreement and say let’s do this together, then we will begin to set the stage and rearrange the deck.”

As one of the committee’s first concessions, the group agreed to not submit statements made during public meetings as legal evidence in any future litigation cases but could not decide whether or not legal representatives should be present during committee work group sessions.

The committee also agreed the group should visit Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and neighboring communities to study the Airport City model already place there but have not nailed down a specific dates or cost-estimates, as of press time.

The next Airport Consultation Committee meeting is scheduled for 8 a.m. Thursday, May 16 at the Aurora Municipal Center, 15151 East Alameda Parkway.