by Pam Zubeck
The Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp. quite frequently hail the military presence here. After all, we have five installations located in El Paso County: Fort Carson, Peterson and Schriever Air Force bases, the Air Force Academy and Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station.
So an announcement Dec. 8 about Peterson's construction of a $14.4 million training facility for the National Security Space Institute and Advanced Space Operations School probably tickled the local business community pink.
The center, for which a groundbreaking was held Dec. 10, will be Air Force Space Command's state-of-the-art training and education facility for 2,400 space professionals, according to the 21st Space Wing, which runs Peterson.
"Moving the campus will address force protection and academic operations concerns with the current off-base facility," the the wing said in a release, noting the base targets fiscal year 2012 for move-in.
"As the host command, the 21st Space Wing is proud to welcome NSSI and ASOpS to Peterson Air Force Base, and we look forward to jointly preparing today's warrior Airmen in the realm of space," Col. Stephen N. Whiting, 21st Space Wing commander, said in the release. "As America's space superiority wing, the 21st Space Wing is the right host for the two schools, which are tremendous assets to today's space operators," he said.
Since 2004, the release said, the training operation has been located in commercial space in Colorado Springs due to lack of on-base facilities. But that space isn't specifically designed for military training and lacks protection required "in a post-9/11 world," the wing said.
"All in all," according to the Space Wing, "this new facility is a win-win proposition for the USAF, Peterson AFB, the two schools, and most importantly, the students."
Also, one could assume there will be some gain in temporary construction jobs due to the project, if the contractor, PCL, which has its United States headquarters located in Denver, hires locally.
Space Command tells us in an e-mail, "The cost associated with the schools production further introduces $4.3M in additional positive economic impact to the local area in instructor wages, and student travel funds."
But here's a bit of a down side: The new facility means the Air Force will abandon 50,000 square feet of office space in the north part of the city — exact location unknown — because the Air Force wouldn't say, except to suggest it's somewhere around Interstate 25 and Woodmen Road.
The space is under contract from Wyle Information Systems, which claims to be the nation's largest technical and scientific services company supporting the federal government, generating $1.1 billion in annual revenues from its "core customers," the Department of Defense, NASA, and the nation’s leading aerospace contractors.
Wyle has offices on Research Parkway here. We can't tell you who owns the property the Air Force will vacate, because the Air Force says that's proprietary information. (We tried to call Wyle a couple of times, but they weren't answering.) Wyle isn't listed as a property owner in El Paso County.
The Air Force also refused to release the amount it pays Wyle for the space, saying that, too, is "proprietary." So you, the taxpayer footing the bill, can't know whether this is a bargain or some kind of sweetheart deal that's shoveling cash into some well-connected person's pocket.
Apparently, dumping 50,000 square feet of space onto the local market isn't too big of a deal, though, because Turner Commercial Research reported that the local office space vacancy rate is declining. According to the Colorado Springs Business Journal:
Empty offices in the Pikes Peak region’s 365 office buildings were fewer — down from a 15.6 percent vacancy rate in second quarter to 14.3 percent for the quarter ending September 30.
Credit for that drop was due in large part to a 73,000-square-foot lease signed by Everest College and to El Paso County’s purchase of 289,000 square feet in the former Intel complex.
As El Paso County Board of Commissioners Chairman Dennis Hisey said recently, we're on the verge of recovery, so there's sure to be a new company moving in who's interested in leasing space that's nearly equivalent to the County Administration Building downtown.