Denver International Airport: Connecting Denver to the World

“Sorry I’m late. I had to fly though Denver.” That was the phrase used in an ad that ran in The Wall Street Journal to promote Salt Lake City in 1985.

Stapleton International Airport, a project that the Chamber helped bring to fruition, was the primary airport serving the region since opening in 1929. At that time in early flight history, the Chamber had a vision to make Denver “one of the foremost cities of the United States in air-mindedness and aviation industry.”

That same focus guided the business community in 1978. The Chamber formed a committee led by Bob Albin, a local businessman who would later chair the Chamber, of more than 50 business leaders to study the potential need to replace Stapleton. During the 1970s three major carries (Frontier, Continental and United) made Denver a hub after the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, but, that ad was unfortunately true: Denver was still known for delays. The study was completed in 1979, recommending a new airport.

”By the turn of the century, we had to drastically expand or completely replace the existing airport,” Albin said.

The study was just the beginning; in order for Denver International Airport (DIA) to become a reality, Denver metro area voters had to approve this multibillion dollar project. The Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation (a Chamber affiliate then known as the Greater Denver Corporation) put $700,000 into an election in 1988 to approve the annexation of land and development of a new airport.

Two votes were needed to approve DIA.

On May 17, 1988, Adams County voters approved the annexation of the land by an 8 percent margin of 54 to 46 percent. On May 16 of the following year, Denver voters gave an almost two-to-one support of the new airport, with 63 percent in favor.

The airport faced challenges, critics and delayed opening. Ultimately, on Feb. 28, 1995, DIA opened to travelers. Today the airport, widely considered one of the region’s smartest economic development investments, now serves more than 54 million passengers a year, making it among the busiest in the United States.

Albin said it best: “It takes a long time to do big, important things.”

And, we continue to work on DIA. In 2015, voters in Adams and Denver counties renewed their agreement to develop area surrounding the airport. Panasonic Enterprise Solutions has been among the first companies to relocate business to this area—and they are creating a smart city, Peña Station Next, as part of the next chapter for this area.

Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce

Photo courtesy of Denver International Airport.