Negotiations will continue between the City of Lompoc and a developer of a proposed space-themed center, although one consultant has questioned the feasibility of the ambitious project.
The Lompoc City Council this week voted to grant another extension for the exclusive negotiations agreement for the 82 acres of city-owned land next to and including Ken Adam Park.
Pale Blue Dot Ventures has proposed Space Base California, which would be focused on entertainment and education with theme park attractions, offices, a hotel and more proposed.
The firm submitted the concept and feasibility study along with the experience design plan at the end of last year.
A city-hired consultant, Keyser Marston, assessed the proposal’s financial feasibility, raising several concerns, including about development costs, operating expenses and more. The consultant also noted that they lack experience in theme parks, suggesting that the city should hire a different expert for that aspect.
The consultant noted aggressive assumptions by Pale Blue Dot, meaning that there’s a significant risk that the development costs would exceed estimates and the cash flow and operating income would be less than predicted.
“If more conservative assumptions are applied, it is likely that the project will be unable to achieve the returns required to attract sufficient capital to develop the project,” City Attorney Jeff Malawy said. “For that reason, consultant Keyser Marston’s ultimate conclusion is the financial information Pale Blue Dot submitted does not demonstrate that the project is financially feasible.”
However, that’s based on the numbers provided by Pale Blue Dot to the consultant, Malawy said.
Staff and the consultant confirmed that Pale Blue Dot has met the initial fundraising goal of $750,000, including at least $500,000 in cash as required under the original 2019 agreement, the city attorney added.
The next step will be a disposition and development agreement to cover the next phase of the project, including transfer of the property to Pale Blue Dot, processing of permits and more.
Those talks have already started and have proved productive so far, Malawy said. However, they won’t be concluded by the May 1 deadline, leading to the council’s unanimous approval of a new deadline in early September.
A video about Space Base California shows the ambitious vision for the destination education and entertainment opportunity aiming at allowing attendees to view Vandenberg Space Force Base launches, participate in space-themed attractions, and attend programs focused on science and space.
The misspelling of “Vandenburg” in the video likely won’t inspire confidence in skeptical residents who have seen multiple other proposals end up getting scrapped before becoming reality.
Steven Franck, Pale Blue Dot’s chief executive officer, said he wanted to submit comments in writing about the consultant’s analysis, but emphasized that he disagreed with the conclusion.
“These documents were really a snapshot in time,” Franck said, adding that the numbers will change multiple times as the project moves toward fruition.
The consultant hired by the city doesn’t come from the entertainment industry, Franck added.
“All the numbers are subject to change. I suggest that in my opinion we’d be a lot more comfortable talking to someone who talks our language,” Franck added.
The team includes a California architect who understands building costs, he said, adding that some features could be excluded if needed.
While he’s talked about lining up investors, Franck said they need the disposition and development agreement to secure funding.
“Frankly, without a DDA we’ve got nothing to talk about,” Franck added.
While Pale Blue Dot’s videos sparked imaginations, council members said they had to question the feasibility of a project that would include the transfer of city-owned land to a private developer.
“I’d love to see something very special, but I’d also like to avoid something becoming defunct halfway through the project and us seeing something not come to fruition and us sitting on one more thing that didn’t work out,” Councilman Jeremy Ball said.
“It is important for us to have those strategic discussions and do our due diligence as council to figure out if this can going to actually go.”