Originally posted on the Silver City Sun-News website:
There is no doubt that Spaceport America is well on its way to delivering on the promises made to the state taxpayers. I’m happy to report that 99 percent of the spaceport’s Phase One construction is complete, and we should be receiving a certificate of occupancy on the Gateway to Space building and the Spaceport Operations Center shortly. More than 1,000 New Mexicans have worked on the project so far, and more than $12 million in GRT has come back to the state and local counties since the beginning of construction. In addition, more than $5 million has gone to spaceport-related education since 2009 and we have achieved global media coverage promoting the state of New Mexico valued at over $40 million since the facility’s groundbreaking.
Virgin Galactic has moved into an office in Las Cruces and will begin paying lease fees to the New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) this summer on the Gateway building. So far we’ve hosted 15 other launches from four other customers, seven of which have occurred on my watch in the last year. We have been busy! Furthermore, due to shrewd management and a favorable bid climate, the NMSA has actually been able to add to the original scope of the spaceport over the course of the project’s development, in order to accommodate new requirements such as: a southern access road; expanded facilities in our vertical launch area; extended safety zones on the main runway; and most significantly, a substantially enhanced public tourism effort, called the spaceport’s “Visitor Experience.”
As originally planned and promised to voters several years ago, the Visitor Experience consisted of two facilities along I-25 known as Welcome Centers, one in Hatch and one in Sierra County. The centers would be venues for tourists to learn about Spaceport America and the surrounding areas, as well as the official point of entry for all visitors to the spaceport itself.
The plan envisioned that Welcome Centers could be a catalyst for local tourism and economic development if done properly, and to that end, the NMSA committed $500,000 toward the effort in each community. However, we discovered that $500,000 per Welcome Center was insufficient to design, construct and fit-out two facilities. We all seemed to focus more on where the centers would be located rather than whether or not they would actually be worth visiting.
Since that time, the NMSA has learned a great deal about what it takes to succeed in the tourism business, and the Visitor Experience plan has grown into something I believe will better serve our communities. Recent comments in the press might lead the casual observer to conclude that the NMSA is robbing the planned Visitor Experience budget to accommodate competing funding objectives and thereby compromising its quality.
This is not the case. Each Welcome Center’s budget is more than three times larger than originally proposed. In fact, the budget for the Visitor Experience is now more than 10 times larger than it was at the outset. When you count our strategy to leverage state dollars with private sector investment (per the governor’s call for public-private partnerships), the total investment doubles to nearly $20 million – and we did this while staying within the original $209 million spaceport budget. In the end, this budget enhancement means that we can build an experience that attracts more guests from around the world; an experience that more strongly showcases our communities; an experience that engages students of all ages with more excitement; an experience we can be proud of.
We now have, for the first time, a credible, exciting Visitor Experience plan developed by world-class experts in the field, that I believe will attract hundreds of thousands of paying guests into our communities. We are now moving forward with implementing that plan. I appreciate the support of so many in moving this project forward, and together, we will ensure that Spaceport America is the big success we all want it to be in terms of economic development for our State, inspiration for our visitors, and educational motivation for our students.
Christine Anderson is the executive director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority.