Delaware North has been awarded an eight-year extension to its concessions agreement with NASA to continue operating Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, the public component of the storied launch facility.
NASA in 2010 had selected Delaware North through a competitive bidding process for a concessions agreement with a 10-year base period and options for another 10 years. The early extension paves the way for the company to continue operating the visitor complex to 2028.
Since 2012, Delaware North has worked with NASA to implement new space center tours and educational programs and increase visitor opportunities to see NASA and private space company rocket launches from nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Delaware North also oversaw the design and construction of major new attractions such as the $100 million Space Shuttle Atlantis® and Heroes & Legends featuring the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame® presented by Boeing.
The extension comes after the visitor complex set an annual attendance record in 2016, surpassing the previous high recorded in 2009, the next-to-last full year of the shuttle program.
“On behalf of Delaware North and the Jacobs family, I want to thank NASA for giving us the opportunity to continue the work we have done together to make Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex an absolute must-see experience for all Americans and international visitors,” said Scott Socha, president of Delaware North’s parks and resorts division.
Beginning in 1967 as little more than a bus tour of the space center’s launch pads, the visitor complex will celebrate its 50th anniversary later this year in August. Delaware North has operated the visitor complex for NASA since 1995, adding major attractions such as:
The Apollo/Saturn V Center, a tribute to NASA’s lunar landing program, which opened in 1997 and features an actual Saturn V rocket, among other displays.
The Shuttle Launch Experience®, which allows visitors to experience a simulated shuttle launch into orbit.
The Space Shuttle Atlantis attraction, which opened in 2013 and tells the compelling story of the 30-year Space Shuttle Program via a dramatic display of the iconic spacecraft and 60 interactive exhibits.
Heroes & Legends featuring the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame® presented by Boeing, which opened in November 2016, uses the early years of the space program to explore the concept of heroism. It also features a new astronaut hall of fame, replacing an offsite venue that was often missed by visitors.
The company in recent years has also added exhibits to highlight current and future space programs and NASA’s private space company partners and their initiatives. For example, visitors can learn about current missions to the International Space Station and upcoming missions to explore deep space, including traveling to the Red Planet in Journey to Mars: Explorers Wanted. Recently, the NASA Now exhibit welcomed NASA’s Orion Spacecraft crew capsule EFT-1, which was launched in 2014 aboard a Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral. Exploration Flight Test 1 was the first test of Orion as it is being developed for NASA’s Space Launch System and the Journey to Mars.
“Everyone with Delaware North is thrilled that this extension will allow us to continue the momentum in enhancing the visitor complex over the next decade,” said Therrin Protze, chief operating officer of the visitor complex. “We have an incredible story to tell to millions of people about NASA’s current and future space programs, as well as what SpaceX, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and other private space companies are doing.”
Protze pointed to a number of other factors that have shown how Delaware North has been successful in repositioning the visitor complex as a top visitor destination in the Orlando market:
Delaware North has established several national marketing partnerships for the visitor complex with high-profile brands such as National Geographic, Smithsonian, History Channel, The Weather Channel, Little Caesars and Chick-fil-A.
For the first time, the cost to develop a new attraction was partially offset by a corporate sponsorship, in this case by Boeing with Heroes & Legends.
The visitor complex has garnered extensive regional, national and international media coverage, reaching an audience estimated at more than 1 billion people.
In 2016, the visitor complex tied Walt Disney World for the highest customer review rating and led in the highest percentage of positive reviews among Orlando market attractions, according to Revinate data.
The visitor complex has enjoyed a significant increase in social media exposure, reach, and engagement on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is completely funded by sales from admission, food and beverage, retail and education programs with no contributions from taxpayer dollars. A portion of the funds is invested to add and enhance attractions and to maintain and preserve hundreds of priceless artifacts, including Space Shuttle Atlantis, real spacecraft from Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, and actual rockets featuring the only Saturn 1-B rocket in the world and one of three remaining Saturn V rockets.