Space Foundation headquarters and Discover Center.

Visitors line up outside the Space Foundation’s headquarters and Discover Center museum in northwest Colorado Springs in 2019.

The El Pomar Foundation has donated a part of a building that includes the Space Foundation's headquarters and Discovery Center to the Colorado Springs-based nonprofit, enabling the group to eventually triple the center's size.

The deal, which includes forgiving a $4.1 million loan and converting a 7-year lease-purchase agreement to a donation, comes just days before the Space Foundation kicks off its first Space Symposium in nearly 2½ years, and gives the group added financial stability as it emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, Space Foundation CEO Tom Zelibor said Wednesday. The symposium is the largest convention held in Colorado Springs, normally attracting 14,000 participants and pumping more than $30 million in the Colorado Springs economy, according to Visit Colorado Springs.

El Pomar had planned to donate the building at 4425 Arrowswest Drive, off Garden of the Gods Road, to the Space Foundation at the end of the agreement in 2025, but accelerating the gift saves the Space Foundation about $200,000 a year in lease payments. The deal gives the Space Foundation ownership of space adjacent to its headquarters and Discovery Center that it now uses for additional offices and warehouse space.

Zelibor said the Space Foundation plans to raise $50 million during the next three to five years to renovate and build out a major expansion of the Discovery Center, a museum dedicated to space, science and technology. The Space Foundation has already hired Gallagher & Associates, which designed exhibits for the year-old U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum, to design exhibits for the expanded Discover Center.

The El Pomar donation, completed late last month, "helps jumpstart our efforts as we come out of the pandemic and start fundraising for the remodeling and expansion" of the Discovery Center, Zelibor said. "Their steadfast generosity will further enable the reach and impact of our information, education and collaboration missions in Colorado Springs and around the world."

The Space Foundation plans to make the center's exhibits and displays more hands-on and interactive to allow for students and other visitors to work with robots, drones, small satellites and other space gear, Zelibor said. The nonprofit already has used money from another grant to hire Gallagher and RTA Architects, a Colorado Springs firm that designed the Pikes Peak Summit Visitors Center, to begin design work on the renovation and expansion, he said.

The donation came after the pandemic forced the Space Foundation to cancel last year's symposium just days before it was scheduled to begin and to postpone this year's event from April to August. Cancellation of last year's symposium cut the Space Foundation's revenue by nearly three fourths to just $4.7 million and triggered a nearly $6 million loss, according to the nonprofit's 2020 federal tax return.

That financial hit forced the Space Foundation to cut its staff from 77 to fewer than 60 and cut its $12.3 million budget by $1.6 million. The group responded by moving its symposium programming online, offering a few early broadcasts for free and more than 30 others later at a discounted rate during the past 10 months. Recent grants have allowed the nonprofit to add back staff with employee numbers expected to reach nearly 90 by mid-2022.

"In the light of the impacts of COVID and the subsequent change to Space Foundation's operations and annual Space Symposium, El Pomar's trustees saw great value in accelerating the timeline in which building ownership would be transferred to them," El Pomar CEO Kyle Hybl said in a joint release with the Space Foundation, "Facilitating this transfer now can be a catalyst for Space Foundation's continued success with the iconic Space Symposium and their other public engagement efforts."

The Space Symposium begins Monday and is expected to draw 7,000-8,000 participants to The Broadmoor for a series of speeches, panel discussions, exhibits and meetings between aerospace executives and top civilian and military space leaders. The program will also be broadcast live online to international participants and others who cannot attend either as a result of pandemic-related travel restrictions or concerns over the rapid spread of the COVID-19 delta variant.

The El Pomar donation completes a multimillion-dollar incentive deal put together in 2009 to keep the Space Foundation in Colorado Springs, funded by El Pomar, the Colorado Economic Development Commission and the  Foundation for Colorado Springs Future, now part of the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC. That deal allowed the Space Foundation to move to its current headquarters and sell the rest of the building to a company headed by contractor Scott Bryan.

El Pomar acquired a part of the building owned by Bryan's company in 2018 and structured the lease and donation agreement to allow the Space Foundation to start using that space. Hybl said the Space Foundation approached El Pomar earlier this year about restructuring the lease to reflect the impact of the pandemic on the group, but El Pomar's trustees decided to accelerate the donation instead to help the Space Foundation bounce back more quickly.

"We always planned to donate the building, but accelerating the donation will maximize their ability to be successful because they are such an important asset to this community," said Hybl, noting his father, Bill Hybl, was one of three founders of the Space Foundation in 1983, and that El Pomar gave the group a $50,000 grant that year. "It seems like they are moving ahead very strongly, but this donation will maximize their chances of coming out of 2021 most effectively."

Contact Wayne Heilman 636-0234

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