DIA Partnership to merge with Denver organization

The DIA Partnership, founded in the mid-1990s to promote development opportunities on the barren land around Denver International Airport, will be folded into the city's economic development office.

The executive committees of the partnership and the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp. tentatively approved the move Thursday, subject to final negotiations.

Officials from both sides said it will allow them to combine efforts - and investors - to more efficiently and effectively work on airport-related issues.

"We want to have one unified voice on issues such as expansion and international travel and to have a more efficient system of handling economic development prospects around the airport," said Tom Clark, head of the Metro Denver EDC.

Clark said the partnership will operate as a committee of the development group, similar to the Colorado Energy Coalition. It will be renamed DIA Leadership, or DIAL.

Mary Rose Loney, an aviation veteran who took the reins of the partnership last fall, will work with the committee on a consulting basis. The EDC also will bring aboard one the partnership's administrative workers.

The partnership was created as a public-private entity shortly after DIA opened to promote both the airport and nearby development on what was then prairie land. Today the area is a hotbed for residential and commercial development, with billions of dollars in current or planned projects.

Some observers have questioned whether there is still a need for the partnership now that the region has matured. Last year, Julie Bender - the organization's first president and chief executive officer - stepped down to pursue other opportunities. At the time, several economic development officials said it was a good time to reassess the partnership's mission and focus.

The partnership recently formed an ad hoc committee to explore several directions, including expanding, contracting, dissolving or consolidating. The committee determined the best course of action would be linking up with the Metro Denver EDC, and it pitched the idea less than two months ago.

"It's the perfect convergence of both of our focuses on the airport and the region," Loney said. "We want to strengthen and marshal all of our efforts around DIA."

The partnership has a $1 million budget this year, while the EDC has $3 million.

Loney, who has managed major airports in Chicago and other cities, said she will work on airport consulting, her line of work before taking the partnership job. Although DIA is looking for a new manager, Loney said she isn't interested in the job. "I think I can be more effective as an advocate for DIA," she said.