Could a space center be built in Lompoc? This theme park company wants to make it happen

The Central Coast has seen firsthand the national resurgence of interest in space exploration — largely thanks to Vandenberg Air Force Base, where billion-dollar commercial space companies like SpaceX and United Launch Alliance regularly propel rockets and satellites into orbit.

Now one group is hoping to capitalize on that national fervor and transform Lompoc into a potential destination for space tourism.

“Exploring space is hot ... again!” declared a slick promotional video that aired Tuesday night at the Lompoc City Council’s regular meeting. “The time to get a front row seat on the action is now.”

Pale Blue Dot Ventures has proposed building a space center in the Santa Barbara County city, on roughly 80 acres of city-owned property near Allan Hancock Community College’s Lompoc campus.

The proposed space complex would feature a visitor’s center, theaters, a gift shop and space-related attractions, as well as an official viewing location for Vandenberg rocket launches. It would also have numerous educational buildings that would host STEM degree or certificate programs and space camps.

“We really have a unique opportunity to build an entertainment and educational destination right here up the street, not far from where we stand,” Pale Blue Dot Ventures CEO Paul Francke told the council Tuesday night. “I know it’s been tried several times before, but we think we have a compelling opportunity now, and now’s the time to tell the story and advance the science of space exploration.”

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A map shows Pale Blue Dot Ventures’ proposed educational and entertainment space complex in Lompoc. City of Lompoc

Creative director Bob Allen said the project would add jobs in the city, as well as bring in much-needed tourism dollars.

“We would argue there is a pretty good basket of value here to take about 80 acres of pent-up value and begin to monetize it over the long term,” he said.

If all goes as planned, the project could begin construction as soon as the end of 2020, with completion around the final quarter of 2022.

“We are not kidding,” Francke told the council. “We have every intention of building a national treasure here in Lompoc.”

Theme park experience

Both Francke and Allen were confident Tuesday night that Pale Blue Dot Ventures was the company to bring this sort of vision to the Central Coast.

Allen, who previously worked for The Walt Disney Company in its Live Entertainment and Imagineering departments, said Pale Blue Dot Ventures emerged from the Disney company roughly 17 years ago.

It has since contributed to numerous space-related complexes around the world, including Virgin Galactic’s 18,000-acre Spaceport America in New Mexico and Spaceport Sweden, which is in development in Kiruna, Sweden, according to designer David Exline.

“We have built a fairly substantial body of work around the topic,” Exline said. “We’re very excited about it.”

Pale Blue Dot Ventures has also contributed to projects at Tokyo Disneyland, the Kennedy Space Center, Epcot Center, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Universal Orlando and the High Roller Ferris wheel in Las Vegas.

Financing and beyond

Allen told the Lompoc City Council on Tuesday night that he and Francke have been meeting with financial legal advisers to secure funding for the project.

The pair have also invested roughly $250,000 into the project already, he said.

“We believe in it that much,” Allen said. “So it’s time to move down the road.”

David and Brittany Breaux, with their children Alana and Nathan, get ready for the Delta IV heavy rocket launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in January 2019. Kaytlyn Leslie kleslie@thetribunenews.com

Allen and Francke were at Tuesday night’s council meeting to ask for the city to consider entering into a 12-month exclusive agreement with Pale Blue Dot Ventures while they begin securing that financing and conducting market interest research.

If, once those 12 months are up, the company finds the project isn’t financially feasible, it won’t move forward, Allen said.

Because Tuesday’s presentation was only informational and no action could be taken on it, the council did not comment on the specific plans. It will consider whether to approve that 12-month agreement at a future meeting.

Mayor Jenelle Osborne did thank Francke after his presentation “for continuing to endeavor into potentially providing us with a space museum and activity center.”

City manager Jim Throop wrote in an email to The Tribune on Wednesday that he was “excited at the prospect of a world-class space center being part of our community.”

“The city of Lompoc’s relationship with Vandenberg Air Force Base is important to us,” he wrote, “and this proposed space center would help shine a bright light on how significant VAFB and its many contributions are to the Lompoc Valley and regions well beyond.”

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Kaytlyn Leslie writes about business and development for The San Luis Obispo Tribune. Hailing from Nipomo, she also covers city governments and happenings in the South County region, including Arroyo Grande, Pismo Beach and Grover Beach. She joined The Tribune in 2013 after graduating from Cal Poly with her journalism degree.