It has long been a dream of locals to have a space-related theme park in the local area, but that requires a developer with the “right stuff.”
The dream began 40 years ago as the Space Shuttle project was in full swing out at Vandenberg Space Force Base (VSFB). The idea then was to place it at an abandoned trailer park site just east of the Vandenberg main gate.
That project failed and the Space Shuttle project at VSFB was cancelled; other theme park projects have been proposed and each failed to mature for various reasons, mostly because they were either underfunded or poorly planned or both.
The latest effort is being proposed by Pale Blue Dot Ventures, and it envisions constructing and operating a theme park on 80 acres of city-owned property at Ken Adam Park, much like a project a few years ago that didn’t work out.
According to the latest proposal, the park would contain “multiple experimental components, an onsite hotel, and a space camp with separate lodging facilities.” Sounds like a space age Boy/Girl Scout camp.
I have been to space-related theme parks operated at Kennedy and Johnson space centers; they have large displays of spacecraft and related objects that attract visitors from all over the nation.
But the NASA programs are not classified, many of the programs at Vandenberg Space Force Base are, so the hardware and/or space-related objects, even from the early days, can’t be displayed for public view.
Some vintage launch sites are available for public view by appointment, but they are constructed in place and couldn’t be relocated.
Before we get into the specifics of the glitzy Pale Blue Dot prospectus, let’s review how negotiations have progressed between the city and the project proponents. Both parties agreed to an “exclusive negotiating” memorandum of understanding in July 2019. After some delays they finally met the first requirement to demonstrate they had seed money to pay for concept development costs.
But they have had difficulty submitting a detailed Concept Feasibility Study and Experience Design Plan on time. So, in December 2022 the City Council granted an extension until May 1 of this year.
Finally on Dec. 29, 2022, Pale Blue Dot submitted two documents they thought met the requirement to prove they could do the job: one titled “California Space Project Concept Research Findings and Feasibility” and the other titled “Experience Design Plan.”
These plans were submitted to Keyser Marston, an impartial third-party consulting firm, for a financial evaluation.
The results seem to indicate the Pale Blue Dot doesn’t have the “right stuff” to either construct or operate a space theme park.
Regarding development costs, the staff report says: “Keyser Marston’s opinion is PBD’s estimated development costs are materially lower than would be anticipated for a development of the proposed scope.
“PBD’s estimated marketing costs are significantly lower than the amount that would need to be spent to promote such a pioneering development.
“PBD’s estimated development management fee is 1/3 to 1/5 of the typical range. PBD estimated taxes, insurance, legal and accounting costs are half or less than the typical range.
“PBD’s development cost estimates are based on the assumption that prevailing wage requirements will not apply to project construction, and at the same assume no land acquisition costs. City financial assistance to the project would initiate prevailing wage requirements.”
So, it appears they made some faulty assumptions and low-balled the development cost to sell the project.
As for revenue and cash flow, they say: “Keyser Marston’s opinion is PBD’s operating expense estimates are lower than expected. Specifically, regarding theme park attraction revenues, Keyser Marston does not have the specific theme park operations experience in order to opine on the attraction revenues included in the Blue Dot estimates.”
And on funding sources they say: “There is significant risk that the development costs will exceed PBD’s estimates and that the cash flow and net operating income will be less than PBD’s estimates.
“If more conservative assumptions are applied, it is likely that the Project would be unable to achieve the returns required to attract sufficient capital to develop the Project.”
And it looks like they overestimated potential revenue in another effort to sell the project.
“Keyser Marston’s ultimate conclusion is the information provided by Pale Blue Dot does not demonstrate that the Project is financially feasible.”
Well, there you have it, considering their late and incomplete, but overly optimistic submittals it’s just another amateurish approach to providing a quality project.
Finally, there is the question of “giving” public property to a private enterprise. This is specifically prohibited by the California Constitution.
So, what did the City Council decide to do? They allowed the project proponent another few months (until September) to resubmit their proposal and respond to Keyser Marston’s concerns.
A Noozhawk report said it best: “The misspelling of “Vandenburg” in the (proponents) video likely won’t inspire confidence in skeptical residents who have seen multiple other proposals end up getting scrapped before becoming reality.”
Staff report: https://www.cityoflompoc.com/home/showpublisheddocument/37477/638170695199745049
Concept Research and Feasibility Study: https://www.cityoflompoc.com/home/showpublisheddocument/37469/638170695155530000
California League of Cities; gift of public property: https://www.cacities.org/Resources-Documents/Member-Engagement/Professional-Departments/City-Attorneys/Library/2016/Annual-2016/10-2016-Annual_Forbath_Gift-of-Public-Funds_Spoile.aspx