Over the years, the 95,000 acres of rolling, windswept coastal hills north of Point Conception and south of Santa Maria have been largely uninhabited-for the past 50 serving as home to Vandenberg Air Force Base. As the focal point of the United States Air Force space program, the base has seen hundreds of launches – both military and civilian – and been a major part of the region’s thriving high-tech industry.
The Lompoc-based California Space Authority-a nonprofit corporation dedicated to the advancement of space-related enterprises-has been working with base officials to lay the groundwork for the California Space Center, an educational facility and business park aimed at promoting the space industry. The CSA has earmarked for the purpose 71 acres on Vandenberg Air Force Base property, where a mobile home park for base personnel used to be. “We were interested in the site because it gives a wonderful view of all the launches,” said CSA Deputy Director Janice Dunn, who is heading up the space center project.
Sporting a price tag of $220 million, construction of the Space Center is to be in three phases and completed in 2018. A lease has not yet been signed; Dunn expects a 50-year USAF enhanced-use lease to be finalized by June, 2010.
The first phase should be complete by 2012, and will include a visitors’ center, classrooms for school children, and the business park, which Dunn said has no tenants lined up yet. “There are two reasons for this park,” said Dunn, “to inspire students to study STEM-or science, technology, engineering, and math-and to educate the general public about space.” An IMAX theater, rocket garden, and USAF history heritage center are planned for the second phase, which CSA aims to finish by 2016. The final phase calls for a conference center with capacity for about 2,000 people, and an adult education facility.
Initially, the curriculum will be aimed at fifth graders who are studying the solar system in school, Dunn said, as well as at high school students taking more advanced astronomy classes. However, classes will be available for schoolchildren of all ages. “The goal is lifelong learning,” she added, referring to CSA’s plans to eventually incorporate adult education into the list of academic offerings.
The new space center is to be funded largely by loans, state and federal grants, and charitable contributions. San Luis Obispo-based Productive Impact, LLC-the consulting firm CSA hired to study the project’s costs and economic impacts-indicated the latter would amount to approximately $115 million over the next 10 years. CSA has already received a $3.1 million federal grant for site preparation, a $150,000 state grant to pay for assembling the project’s master plan, and, said Dunn, a $1 million line of credit at Santa Barbara Bank & Trust. In addition to grants and contributions, Dun added, “We intend to use revenues from the business park to fund construction.”
The center will become a regional economic engine, said Dunn, as well as an avenue for technology education and commerce. Productive Impact performed an economic impact study projecting that the center’s construction alone will employ 1,713 people. Space Center employee spending, and vendors for employees and visitors will induce another 12,081 jobs, according to the study. During the first 10 years, the project’s estimated economic impact will be $2.73 billion, and the center will generate $235 million in taxes during that time, the study estimated. A master architect has not yet been selected, but Dunn said four firms-including Santa Maria-based Westberg + White, Inc.-are finalists in the selection process.