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Monday, November 19 , 2018, 4:43 am | Fair 47º


Ron Fink: Lompoc Needs Experienced Developer Before Launching Space Center Project

Here we go again — another spacey proposal to build an attraction for space flight enthusiasts at nearby Ken Adam Park at the northern entrance to Lompoc.

Last Tuesday’s City Council hearing concerning a proposal to develop the project was the result of another search for a developer following a council rejection of a very weak proposal last year. The reason they rejected it and then directed staff to prepare a very specific Request for Proposals was to avoid solicitations by unqualified applicants.

In 2014, then-Mayor John Linn was a strong advocate for choosing a firm that made big promises for a robust facility but had no demonstrated ability to complete projects of the size and complexity of a space visitor’s center. By all outward appearances, he is once again hooked up with a weak team since he was observed caucusing with them during a council break in the Tuesday hearing.

Well, here we are in 2015 and guess what? Another unqualified proposal with Linn’s fingerprints on it!

The PowerPoint presentation last Tuesday wasn’t that good and the written response to the RFQ lacked many essential elements. For example, the staff analysis said that they didn’t describe any experience in preparing an overall vision plan, working with a diverse group of investors, identifying funding sources, sustaining momentum until funding is available or any experience working with a government agency.

And they didn’t show any experience developing, owning or operating similar projects.

In short, they didn’t appear qualified to do the job. The staff recommended that the council either reject the response or allow them more time to provide more responsive submittals from other interested parties.

Noozhawk reported the results of the council action last Wednesday: “Despite what staff called a significantly flawed proposal lacking details about the team proposing to develop a space center in Lompoc, the City Council agreed Tuesday night to move toward entering into exclusive negotiations with the group led by a woman from Poland (Eva Blaisdell).”

The Noozhawk report continues: “Teresa Gallavan, economic development director and assistant city administrator, said a committee determined the lone submission lacked 'significant amounts of important information requested to evaluate the applicant and its development team’s ability to develop and finance the concept they proposed.' She cited more than a dozen ways the request for qualifications was incomplete or missing the 'evidence of ability,' requested as part of the process to ensure the project succeeds.”

In a local news report, Mayor Bob Lingl later explained why he supported allowing them to advance to the next phase: “While he said that the consortium submitted a 'woefully incomplete application,' Lingl explained that it was the only application (received by the city) and that his vote was swayed by the fact that the consortium was willing to pick up all staff costs (during the development of a negotiating agreement), thereby drastically decreasing risk.”

Well, the proponent will now enter into the next phase; the council has given her 90 days to convince the staff that her team should have exclusive negotiating rights for the 82-acre site.

The space center project has long been a dream of city leaders. I don’t know if any of you have been to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. I have, and to create an attraction that even comes close to the visitors’ center at the western entrance to KSC will be a serious challenge and take millions of dollars of investment.

There is a huge difference between Vandenberg Air Force Base and KSC. At KSC you can sit along the banks of the Banana River and watch launches. Vandenberg Air Force Base launches are frequently masked by fog or clouds or are launched from remote areas that are out of eyesight from the proposed project site.

There have been three previous tries at developing the site; each has been preceded by flashy presentations and heralded by enthusiastic supporters — and then they all fizzled out. Maybe this try will work, but with no experience at developing a project, any project, I am less than optimistic that it will succeed either.

As one council member put it, “I think she (Blaisdell) has a half-percent chance of providing the necessary information.” Another gave her a 5 percent chance. I think they were both being generous.

There is a lot of hope that a space center will be built, but when choosing a developer the council should not pick a group that has no demonstrated experience with projects like this, cannot provide the financial assurances to validate their capability to complete the project and certainly not someone who can’t even provide a complete response to the city’s requirements — even if a former mayor is on their team.

— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry and has been active with Lompoc municipal government commissions and committee since 1992, including 12 years on the Lompoc Planning Commission. He is also a voting member of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association. Contact him at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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