As Glendale continues its steady climb to fiscal prosperity and regional strength, the city’s next opportunity may literally reach to the stars. After 17 years of moon missions and space explorations conducted from its remote base station in north Peoria, the Challenger Space Center of Arizona is being forced to shuttle its operations elsewhere.
While relocation is eminent, with a commencing September countdown, the Glendale Civic Center campus could provide the ideal coordinates for current operations and future possibilities, as well as an effective catalyst for sustainable development and escalating interest in the downtown district.
The Challenger Space Center is affiliated with Challenger National, an organization created by the surviving families of the Challenger Space disaster of Jan. 28, 1986. Its purpose was to create a living tribute to those brave pioneers and visionaries by encouraging students to learn about the wonders of our universe, while the goal to inspire, excite and educate people of all ages is a commitment that the 44 centers share throughout the world.
Also, in association with the Smithsonian Institute, the center has a collection of unique items on public display, as well as the ability to host special exhibits and traveling displays from among our nation’s premier collections. The Challenger Space Center is one of only three organizations in the Valley with this distinctive designation.
While its previous focus was primarily educational in nature, the long-term success of the center in a downtown environment will require a shift in basic philosophy and a business plan designed to balance the general public with its educational offerings.
Specifically, the Annex building and old Bead Museum may be just the environment for a successful recovery and subsequent launch. While Challenger is currently contained in a custom-built, 26,000-square-foot facility, the Annex and museum combine for a total of 16,000 square feet. However, the core of every Challenger Space Center is its simulator that requires just 3,000 square feet.
Since the museum building yields approximately 5,000 square feet, it could possibly be configured to accommodate the simulator, as well as designated areas for mission briefings and debriefings. With some 11,000 square feet of available space, the Annex could serve as the face of the center, classrooms, museum and gift shop designed to address the curiosity, desires and interests of guests from throughout the galaxy.
Should additional space be required for either space-related studies or large-scale exhibits, the Civic Center Complex would have ample capacity for short- and long-term stints, as well as indoor and outdoor displays. While this is certainly an oversimplification of a complex concept, it just might work.
Public perception of the center is mixed at best and rightfully so. Originally founded and championed by the Peoria Unified School District, the center’s creation, location, design and business model was exclusively structured for student applications, with little regard to the public, or other potential components. Once the original business plan was aborted and the school district abandoned the center, regular operation of Challenger became a daily challenge.
On the strength of its corporate and private sponsors, grants and educational programming, public admissions and merchandising, and a solid core of committed volunteers, Challenger has successfully endured the tests of time and retains a plethora of untapped potential.
With a versatile, national brand, unique programs, Smithsonian association and corporate supporters, a downtown Challenger center may bring prestige and people to and through its doors and ever-increasing exposure to its neighboring businesses.
While analysis and study would be preferable, time is of the essence. The countdown has begun and competition is formidable. With the suddenness of the situation and the urgency to relocate, there are more questions than answers.
Even so, it would be well worth the time and effort of our city leadership to open a dialogue with the same of the Challenger Space Center to explore the costs, benefits and logistics of all concerned.
While this really is rocket science, it’s not every day the combination of Challenger and Smithsonian seek to set down in your city.