Denver Auditor Timothy O’Brien issued a news release Thursday claiming the Westin Denver International Airport Hotel is withholding financial documents related to revenue his office should be allowed to review.
The Westin, which is owned and operated by Marriott International Inc., opened at the DIA terminal in 2015. O’Brien’s office pointed out that “Denver spent more than $700 million in bonds and airport capital funds to build the Westin.”
He specifically takes issue with the DIA’s hotel management agreement with Marriott, under which Denver pays Marriott fees to run the hotel.
“We finally received some of the records we requested — after more than two years of waiting — but it is vital that the hotel management agreement is updated to end the possibility that Marriott International could further block access to records for both auditors and airport management,” Auditor O’Brien said.
DIA’s Amy Edinger, senior vice president of commercial business development, said they’ve been working with Marriott and attorneys on a new hotel management agreement.
“We’ve been in discussions for many months,” Edinger said, adding “there was a pandemic and we didn’t get to it as quickly as the auditor, or we, would like. But now that things are a little more stable and we’re mostly through the pandemic, we have more time and resources to work on it."
Neither a Marriott corporate representative, nor one with Westin, replied to an early morning Friday emails from the Denver Gazette for comment.
Asked if the auditor suspected any missing, misused or misappropriated funds, spokesman Tayler Overschmidt responded via email Friday: “No, not at this time. But the airport can’t tell whether all expenditures are allowable or not unless they are checking the documents and checking the math. It’s really a trust but verify thing.”
Edinger said officials are verifying financial information.
“I would say we do have strong controls in place and a full-time staffer managing the agreement with the hotel,” she said. “The issue is that the auditor wants us to review every individual transaction and document. We’ve brought in a professional firm to conduct audits. We’re in a disagreement in how to implement, but we all agree they’re being careful with assets.
“DIA is very confident the hotel is managed well, with the proper oversight. It’s one of the highest performing hotels in the region. We’re in daily contact with the hotel and they’re regularly audited. We don’t have any concerns.”
The Westin, like every other hotel in the world, suffered lost revenue in 2020 from pandemic business and travel shut downs. O'Brien said that adds to the importance of transparency.
“The significant decrease in revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 makes it even more important to check that all revenue owed to the city was actually paid to the airport from the hotel,” he said in a statement.