Del. North, Kennedy land Atlantis

April 13, 2011 Updated Apr 13, 2011 at 7:37 AM EDT

By James Fink - Business First


Del. North, Kennedy land Atlantis

April 13, 2011 Updated Apr 13, 2011 at 7:37 AM EDT

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex has landed one of the coveted space shuttle orbiters for a permanent exhibit at the Cape Canaveral, Fla. landmark.

NASA designated the Kennedy Space Center as one of the four venues nationwide that will serve as the permanent orbiter site. Buffalo's Delaware North Cos., which has operated the space center's visitor complex since 1995, put together a $100 million development to house the shuttle and build an adjoining 65,000-square-foot building. More than 21 sites were vying for the orbiter.

NASA said the Atlantis will be housed at Kennedy Space Center after its final flight in June.

"We're so immensely proud to be entrusted with the national treasure that is Atlantis. We can't wait to break ground on the $100 million project that will become Atlantis' final home," said Kevin Kelly, Delaware North Cos. Parks & Resorts president.

NASA made its announcement Tuesday to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the first space shuttle launch.

Delaware North has operated the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Center complex since 1995.

Kennedy Space Center is one of 21 organizations and museums that have made a pitch to NASA for one of the orbiters. Others include the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum in Washington, the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Adler Planetarium in Chicago and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City.

Securing the orbiter is almost guaranteed boost for any museum's annual attendance figures.

William Moore, Kennedy Space Center chief operating officer, said the venue was attractive to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for a number of reasons including the fact that all 133 space shuttle launches have taken place at the complex.

"This is the home of the shuttle." Moore said. "It would be hard to imagine Kennedy Space Center without a shuttle."

Moore said Delaware North's $100 million investment includes building a 65,000-square-foot building that will adjoin the orbiter. The building will include a theater and space shuttle launch simulator, among its many features. Delaware North is also planning a mock-up of the fabled Hubble Telescope as part of the exhibit. The telescope was launched from Kennedy Space Center.

The entire investment will be self-funded by Delaware North, which would recoup its costs through a projected spike in attendance and increased sales of merchandise and concessions at the space center.

The Kennedy Space Center attracts approximately 1.5 million annual visitors. Moore said securing an orbiter could result in attendance increasing by "at least" 15 percent.

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