Two left for DIA hotel HYATT, WESTIN One of the chains will operate a long-planned $200 million, 500-room project at the terminal.

Denver International Airport officials have settled on the Hyatt and Westin chains as finalists to operate a 500- room upscale hotel to be built at the southeast corner of DIA's terminal.

In recent months, DIA sifted through proposals from a number of hotel companies, including Marriott and Hilton.

The airport chose Hyatt and Westin for final negotiations with the aim of selecting a winner early next year, said Cheryl Cohen-Vader, DIA's chief deputy manager.

Construction of the $200 million, 15- story hotel could begin in June and take up to two years to complete, said Stan Koniz, DIA's deputy manager for business and technologies.

The hotel will have about 40,000 square feet of meeting and conference space, restaurants, a swimming pool, a health club and a 242-space parking garage.

Westin hotels are owned and developed by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. If Hyatt is selected, the hotel would likely be a Hyatt Regency, Koniz said.

Key customers will be business travelers and those using the hotel for corporate meetings and conferences, Cohen-Vader said.

"If you look at all of the major airports, both domestic and international, they all have high-end hotels," she said. "It's one of our most asked-for amenities."

Building a flagship hotel at DIA's terminal has been an on-again, off-again proposition for at least a decade.

In 1998, Westin first got the go-ahead to build the airport hotel. The price tag then was pegged at $87 million.

When that proposal failed to win private financing, DIA made plans to publicly finance the hotel.

The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks put a crimp in air travel, and many capital projects at U.S. airports were put on hold as officials assessed the long-term impact on the industry. Design of the airport hotel continued, but construction plans were halted.

In September 2002, Denver Mayor Wellington Webb revived the project, saying DIA should ignore the naysayers and push ahead with capital expansion projects like the hotel.

Three months later, United Airlines, DIA's largest airline, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and again the hotel was put on the shelf as officials waited for United to resolve its financial difficulties. United emerged from bankruptcy in February 2006, and earlier this year DIA officials again solicited interest from hotel operators and investors in building the hotel at DIA.

The airport's proposal anticipated that private companies would finance and operate the hotel under a 55-year lease, with two possible 10-year extensions.

"We did not get a privately financed deal that made sense," Cohen-Vader said.

DIA returned to the model of financing it publicly, using hotel revenue bonds and then having Hyatt or Westin operate it under a management contract for 15 years.

DIA will seek proposals from Wall Street firms Citigroup, Bear Stearns, JP Morgan and Piper Jaffray on ways to structure the hotel financing, Koniz said.

Jeffrey Leib: 303-954-1645

or jleib@denverpost.com


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