May 2, 2017
— NASA has awarded an early extension to its concessionaire, Delaware North, to continue operating Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, the public face to the Florida spaceport. The extension comes as the Visitor Complex is about to mark its 50th anniversary, having first opened in August 1967.
Delaware North, a hospitality and food services company, has operated the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex since 1995. In 2010, NASA chose to continue working with the concessionaire through a competitive bid process on a 10-year base period with options for another 10 years.
The early extension will see Delaware North continuing to run the NASA visitor complex through 2028.
"On behalf of Delaware North ... I want to thank NASA for giving us the opportunity to continue the work that we have done together to make the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex an absolute must-see experience for all," Scott Socha, the president of Delaware North parks and resorts division, said in a statement.
Guests see space shuttle Atlantis at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. (Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex)
Since 2012, Delaware North has worked with NASA to add new space center tours and educational programs, as well as increased visitor opportunities to see NASA and private launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The company has also overseen the design and construction of new attractions, including the $100 million Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit showcasing the retired iconic NASA orbiter, and Heroes & Legends featuring the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, highlighting NASA's early space explorers.
The early extension comes after the visitor complex set an annual attendance record in 2016 — 1.66 million people — surpassing the previous high record set in 2009, the next-to-last full year of the space shuttle program.
Recently, Delaware North has focused on adding exhibits to highlight current and near-future NASA programs and the initiatives of NASA's commercial spaceflight partners. For example, visitors can learn about current missions to the International Space Station and upcoming missions to explore deep space, including missions to the Red Planet, in "Journey to Mars: Explorers Wanted."
And just last month, the complex's "NASA Now" exhibition welcomed NASA's Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) spacecraft, which was launched in 2014 aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy rocket into high Earth orbit.
Space shuttle astronaut Jon McBride speaks to guests outside the Astronaut Encounter Theater at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. (Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex)
"Everyone with Delaware North is thrilled 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 Kennedy Space Center 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 the other private space companies are doing."
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is funded by sales from admission, food and beverages, as well as from retail and education programs, with no use of tax dollars. A portion of the funds is invested to add and enhance to the attractions and to maintain and preserve the hundreds of artifacts that are on exhibit at the complex, including the shuttle Atlantis, spacecraft from the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, and rockets, including the only remaining Saturn IB and one of three remaining Saturn V boosters.
In addition to operating the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Delaware North also runs the concession sales for several National Parks, including Sequoia and Kings in California, Shenandoah in Virginia and the Grand Canyon in Arizona.