DENVER -- When Denver opens its new airport in late 1993, it also will become the first U.S. city to dismantle an operating airfield.

The city is going to close Stapleton International Airport. But how Stapleton is redeveloped -- and when -- is the $100 million question for the new Denver International Airport.

Just last week, Mayor Willington Webb named an internal team to study the question of how to turn the 4,700-acre airport into productive land just minutes from downtown.

That effort is important to the finances of the $3.1 billion new airport, which has anticipated that the first $100 million from the redevelopment of Stapleton will be used to retire variable-rate debt on the project throught the year 2000.

Gennifer P. Sussman, finance director for the airport project, said a lack of the $100 million will not force the city to sell additional debt. "It's spread over time, and it goes to pay down variable-rate debt," she said.

However, if the money is delayed or does not come through, Denver may have to increase the fees it must assess to airlines, concessionaires, and others to pay for the airport. Because the city does not have to pay down its outstanding variable-rate debt, it could continue to pay interest only, which would require less of a fee increase than retiring the principal.

While setting no specific timetable for action, the mayor has named Errol Stevens, a deputy aviation director for the city, to work with three former officials from the Pena administration to study the cities' options.

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