Denver airport CEO Kim Day to retire, ending 13-year tenure

Denver International Airport CEO Kim Day will step down this summer after 13 years presiding over large-scale expansion projects, rapid passenger growth and occasional controversy, DIA announced Friday morning.

Day is set to retire July 16, the airport said. In a statement, she attributed the decision to step down — after overseeing half of DIA’s years in operation — in part to surviving cancer in recent years as well as feeling confident about the stability of several expansion projects underway as part of a $3.5 billion capital program. Those include the $770 million terminal renovation that hit major turbulence in 2019 with city leaders’ decision to terminate the original contracting team; the project was revamped and resumed with a new set of contractors.

“Experiencing breast cancer made me think about reducing stress and retiring last year, but then COVID-19 hit,” Day said. “I felt the responsibility to lead the airport through the pandemic and leave it in a strong and financially healthy place with major capital projects on target to meet their budget and schedule goals. I will miss so much about DEN and its talented and capable people. We have accomplished so much together, but I’m ready to discover the next phase of my life.”

Then-Mayor John Hickenlooper appointed Day as DIA manager in early 2008. After his election, current Mayor Michael Hancock retained Day. Before Denver, Day, who once worked as an architect, was an executive at Los Angeles World Airports.

Day’s tenure coincided with a massive population boom along the Front Range. DIA says annual passenger traffic has increased from 51 million when Day took over to 69 million in 2019, and the number of international destinations served by DIA increased from 170 to 214. Airport revenue grew from $842 million to $1.2 billion.

Last year, traffic hit a near-record low at all airports amid the pandemic, including DIA, but its diminished numbers came out ahead of many large airports, ranking it as seventh-busiest in the world. In recent months, air traffic has been recovering.

Day has drawn controversy during her time at the helm, in large part for her handling of costly expansion projects. A decade ago, Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava exited a project to build a hotel and transit center on the south side of DIA’s tented-roof terminal, citing inadequate funding and an unrealistic schedule.

The project was built for more than $700 million — and was the subject of city audits over its overruns — but Day has said the hotel was successful before the pandemic. The lower level of the facility is the platform where the A-Line commuter rail line from Union Station connects to DIA.

More recently, Day won Denver City Council’s support for a $1.8 billion public-private partnership deal with a Spanish-led consortium that included the Great Hall terminal renovation, then priced at $650 million, as well as three decades of private oversight over new airport concessions. That arrangement devolved into acrimony over cost overruns, design disputes and accusations of micromanaging by Day and other DIA executives, a charge Day disputed.

She has survived the controversies, in part because of DIA’s economic success and growth.

Hancock, now in his third term, will appoint Day’s successor.

“Kim Day’s impact on Denver International Airport and subsequently on our regional economy, is indelible,” Hancock said in the announcement. “Kim has been the dynamic leader we needed at a pivotal time of growth and opportunity for our city and state. She is the epitome of selfless leadership, grit and perseverance, an exceptional leader who sets the highest standards for herself and her team, and delivers impactful results with precision, and expert attention to detail.

“Kim’s dedication to our shared vision of creating a world-class airport is a crowning achievement of her professional career and a lasting legacy for my administration.”

This is a developing story that will be updated.

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