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The port authority is exploring a new public-private partnership to get the Texas metro area’s unique mix of industries, like cybersecurity and defense, collaborating more.
Port San Antonio is developing plans for an innovation center and cybersecurity complex, tapping into the kind of technology used in the White House Situation Room, through a public-private partnership.
The port authority was created in 2001 to redevelop the 1,900-acre Kelly Air Force Base immediately south of San Antonio’s downtown, after the base’s closing.
About 80 public and private employers accounting for more than 13,000 aerospace, defense, cybersecurity, robotics, and advanced manufacturing workers now occupy the campus.
“We need to connect people with opportunities in education, with employers, and with buyers and sellers,” Adrienne Cox, chief operating officer of Port San Antonio, told Route Fifty. “We think it’s going to be completely transformative because a lot of these technologies are researched and explored, but a lot are done so independently of each other.”
Kelly Air Force Base was responsible for the development of landing gear and seatbelts on aircraft, and in the early 2000s the campus saw the arrival of cellphone cameras. But those discoveries happened in silos.
By connecting cybersecurity experts with those in data analytics and artificial intelligence, the port hopes to find solutions to the threat of cyberattacks on aircraft in flight, power grids, transportation systems, as well as in the medical field and financial services, Cox said.
Local aerospace engineers are also moving from incredibly costly schedule-based aircraft maintenance to a predictive model based on data transmitted via secure streams—a single engine generating a terabyte of data on a standard flight.
Such discoveries allow San Antonio to compete on the global stage in multi-trillion dollar markets, a port official said. On Feb. 27, the port Board of Directors approved a pre-development agreement with the New York City-based infrastructure private equity firm American Triple I Partners LLC to develop its two newest facilities.
“The entire redevelopment concept of Kelly Air Force Base is significant,” said David Cibrian, CEO of Triple I. “At its height it was the largest single employer in the seventh-largest city in the U.S., and its closure could have had catastrophic effects.”
Phase one of the expansion would be the 130,000-square-foot innovation center complete with a collaborative prototyping space, an industry showroom, the expanded San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology, and a 1,500-seat arena for everything from trade show demos to electronic gaming and drone racing competitions.
Tech employers and universities would occupy the coworking and maker spaces—strengthening connections between the private sector and academia. Food service and retail businesses would also be included to cater to the large number of visitors expected.
A 150,000-square-foot cyber office complex would come second, playing off the success of the port’s 90,000-square-foot Project Tech complex completed in mid-2018 to support the expansions of cyber companies moving to the region.
The 24th Air Force oversees all the military branch’s cyber operations out of its national headquarters at the port. This has attracted private-sector firms like Northrop Grumman, IOMAXI, Lockheed Martin Cybersecurity Solutions and LGS Systems. Boeing and StandardAero also use the industrial airport on site.
Plans for the two new facilities continue to be refined, and after the 120-day pre-development agreement period ends, separate agreements for the phased construction of both projects can be finalized.
In the meantime, Triple I will analyze demographic data to assess the projects’ anticipated impact on the region.
If everything goes according to schedule, the innovation center would open in the summer of 2020 and the cyber complex in February of 2021.
“We are looking to bring true private equity control and certainty to the projects we work on,” Cibrian said. “We are not just financing these projects.”
Comprehensive development means Title I will also handle things like operations and maintenance, making it a “powerful solution” for state and local governments, Cibrian said.
The mix of regional resources San Antonio has assembled at the port has made its redevelopment success story unique, Cox said.
“I’m not sure anyone could replicate what we’re doing here,” she said.
Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.
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