An effort to build a Space Center complex in northern Lompoc — a project described by Councilwoman Gilda Cordova as a potential “game-changer” for the city — moved a step closer Tuesday night to becoming a reality.

The Lompoc City Council voted 5-0 to have the city enter into a Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, with Pale Blue Dot Ventures to explore the potential sale of about 82 acres of city-owned property surrounding and including Ken Adam Park that Pale Blue Dot leaders intend to use for the development of a multi-faceted space-themed entertainment project.

Steve Franck, the founder and CEO of Pale Blue Dot Ventures, first proposed the project to the Lompoc City Council on March 5. He was back at City Hall on Tuesday night to deliver a brief update, and did not hold back when discussing the potential he sees in the project, which calls for a space center and related visitor’s center, along with a possible amphitheater, hotel, restaurants, theater and retail shops.

“Our aim right now with this project is to create a venue with a global draw, so we don’t have a small vision,” he said.

“We want to celebrate the science and the story of space exploration, we want to deliver educational content through themed entertainment, and we have one of the best guys in the world to help us do that,” he added, referring to partner Bob Allen, whom Franck described as the project’s creative lead.

Several community members addressed the City Council to support the project, and light applause broke out following the unanimous vote.

The MOU will be effective for 545 days, or roughly 18 months, and stipulates that the city will not negotiate with any other party for sale or development of the project site, which is located near the Hancock College Lompoc Valley Center.

Under the terms of the MOU, Pale Blue Dot will be required within the first 365 days to accumulate at least $750,000 in seed money, with at least $500,000 of that in cash, as well as submit a concept and feasibility study and experience design plan. That plan will then be reviewed by the City Council at a public meeting, and the city will provide comment on it within 60 days of receiving it.

Further, the agreement states that both parties will work in good faith to negotiate an exclusive negotiation agreement, or ENA, and/or a disposition and development agreement, or DDA, to convey ownership of the property to Pale Blue Dot.

Pale Blue Dot, under the terms of the MOU, will be responsible for paying all of the city’s staff and third-party costs related to the negotiations of the ENA and DDA and will have to submit a $25,000 deposit toward payment of those costs.

Both parties are able to terminate the MOU if certain termination conditions are met.

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Pale Blue Dot is the latest organization to attempt to build a space center in the Lompoc Valley, which is home to Vandenberg Air Force Base and its space programs.

At least three prior attempts have failed. The most recent among those was a project proposed in 2015 by entrepreneur Eva Blaisdell. That plan was ultimately killed when the city decided that same year to terminate an agreement with Blaisdell after she failed to provide certain requested documents and details.

Lompoc resident Sue Coupland, who has continued to support Blaisdell’s efforts to construct a space center in Lompoc since that 2015 termination, asked the City Council on Tuesday night to not agree to the MOU with Pale Blue Dot because she felt it would be “jumping the gun.”

Coupland suggested that Blaisdell is still vying to bring her own project forward.

Those previous failures were not lost on the members of the council.

Several Lompoc residents and representatives of businesses and other agencies have reported a growing problem regarding people experiencing homelessness loitering or vandalizing private properties, including accusations of some people using yards, alleys and entryways as public restrooms. That has coincided with a citywide uptick this year in violent crimes, evidenced by five homicides and more than 30 reported shootings in the first seven months of 2019. While those issues are raising safety concerns for many in and around the Lompoc Valley, the city’s new police chief said his department was doing its best, but that a lack of funding and being short-staffed have severely limited what police can do.

Cordova echoed the sentiments of several speakers when she said she felt the project could provide a big boost to Lompoc via education, job opportunities, economic development and tourism.

“I think it’s a no-brainer,” she said of entering into the MOU. “I support that project coming forward and I’m hopeful that this attempt will be the attempt that makes a difference and is able to get it off the ground and get it built.”

Mayor Jenelle Osborne said she was excited for the development, but noted that she had “high standards” for such a project, and suggested that this new project could see the same fate as past proposals if those standards are not met.

“I am hopeful, but realize I will also be extremely critical during this phase,” she said. “It is our responsibility to make sure this project’s done right [and that] it is not creating a burden on our community, but success for our community.”

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Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.



Willis Jacobson covers news and other issues, primarily those that affect the Lompoc Valley and Vandenberg Air Force Base, for Lee Central Coast News. He is a graduate of The University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications.