DENVER – The Westin hotel at Denver International Airport, which is operated by Marriott International, still has not complied with Denver Auditor Timothy M. O’Brien’s requests for information, more than a year after audit work began.
“This has taken long enough,” Auditor O’Brien said. “Everyone who works with the city is required to follow the city’s laws. The Westin needs to recognize the Auditor’s authority as written in the City Charter and follow through on its contract with the city.”
Auditor O’Brien sent a letter to Mayor Michael Hancock today calling for action from the City Attorney’s Office. The letter serves as a reminder to city leaders of the promises Westin made to Auditor O’Brien, City Council and to the people of Denver to uphold its contractual requirements.
The airport received notice of plans for an audit of the Westin in October 2017, and auditors began work on the revenue audit in June 2018. During the audit, Westin failed to respond to numerous requests to provide documentation related to hotel operations and revenue.
Audits typically take between three and six months to complete. According to Denver Charter, the Auditor has the right to conduct audits of city contracts and franchises with access at all times to books, accounts, reports, and other records.
In February, Auditor O’Brien issued an audit report exposing the lack of transparency in the agreement with the hotel. Marriott claims information necessary for the audit is “proprietary,” and the company withheld financial, operational, and performance information.
After publication of this report and considerable public concern from the people of Denver, the City Attorney’s Office told Auditor O’Brien and City Council it would take action to fix the contract and ensure access for auditors. The contract has not yet been amended. Westin officials told City Council it would cooperate with the audit and produce the required records. Again, the majority of the requested records were not provided.
Auditor O’Brien believes the Westin has breached its contract with the city by not producing required information. He also believes the airport has failed to provide necessary oversight of financial records and failed to verify revenue from a significant city asset.
“My audit team cannot get all the information it needs to ensure revenues reported to the city are in line with the city’s operating agreement with the hotel,” Auditor O’Brien said. “If I can’t see this important information, I am certain the airport is also not monitoring the money as it should. That’s a problem for all taxpayers who care about the asset they helped pay to build.”
The city spent more than $700 million in bonds and airport capital funds to build the hotel and transit center. The city entered into a hotel management agreement with Marriott and pays Marriott a management fee to run the Westin hotel.
Auditor O’Brien chose to reiterate his concerns about the Westin’s lack of transparency and auditors’ lack of access because the lack of progress five months after the audit was published still leaves taxpayers in the dark.