SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS – Port San Antonio, which straddles a large swath immediately south of America’s seventh-largest city’s downtown, is on an accelerated path as it grows as one of the nation’s leading platforms for the integration of cybersecurity technology in the aerospace, defense, robotics and other advanced technology sectors.
The 1,900-acre campus is the site of the former Kelly Air Force Base, which was launched at the dawn of World War I and closed in 2001.
The Port’s efforts repurposing the former Air Force facilities and developing new strategic spaces with a focus on job creation in advanced technologies make it one of the most successful base redevelopments in the country.
Today, the campus is home to over 80 public- and private-sector employers and over 13,000 workers in fields that include aerospace, defense, cybersecurity, robotics and advanced manufacturing.
Given the momentum of innovation and growth on the Port campus and elsewhere in San Antonio—particularly with regard to the application of cybersecurity and digital technology to mature industries that also include energy, medicine and financial services—the Port is advancing plans to create large next-generation integrated research, development, education and industrial facilities for the latest technology and cyber innovations.
The Port San Antonio Board of Directors on Feb. 27 approved a pre-development agreement with American Triple I Partners, LLC to advance this strategic growth vision.
Included in the plans is the development of two facilities.
The first is a 130,000-square-foot innovation center, comprised of an industry showroom, collaborative space for industry prototyping, a technology museum and a technology arena with a 1,500-seat capacity to conduct activities from electronic gaming to industry demonstrations and training.
The pre-development agreement with Triple I also contemplates a 150,000-square-foot cybersecurity office complex that can be finished-out to Sensitive Compartment Information Facilities (SCIF) standards—similar to the White House Situation Room.
San Antonio is already home to the largest concentration of cybersecurity professionals outside the Washington, D.C. region, and the Port San Antonio projects are expected to build on that base of human capital and attract new innovators and investment.
The two developments would further connect and support operations and collaborations between substantial technology capabilities at the Port and in the region. The campus is already home to leading defense, aerospace and cyber operations. They include the national headquarters for the 24th Air Force—which oversees the branch’s cybersecurity operations around the world.
An array of private-sector firms, including Northrop Grumman, IOMAXIS, Lockheed Martin Cybersecurity Solutions and LGS Systems have established operations on the campus as they support the 24th Air Force along with other defense and commercial clients in the region.
Additionally, the campus, which features an industrial airport, has been home over the past 20 years to large operations by Boeing and StandardAero, among other global names in aerospace.
At the site, Boeing oversees major maintenance and modernization projects, including serving C-17 and F/A-18 fighter jets—performing both mechanical and electronic upgrades, including securing the communications and digital systems that operate the aircraft.
Similarly, StandardAero refurbishes and modernizes an array of military and commercial engines at an adjacent site. In recent months, both companies have announced significant new workloads that is doubling their respective workforces.
Additionally, manufacturing and robotics firms are growing at the campus. Of note is San Antonio-based Plus One Robotics, which is retrofitting industrial robots with artificial intelligence and sensor technologies to create greater efficiencies in the manufacturing and supply-chain sectors.
Under the terms of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that was approved by the board, the Port and Triple I will refine plans for both the innovation center, a concept the Port first proposed in 2018, and the new office building in which Sundt Infrastructure Development will join and support the Triple I team during the pre-development process.
Following the 120-day pre-development period established by the MOU, during which additional design and feasibility research will be conducted, the Port and Triple I could formalize separate agreements for phased construction of the two projects.
“Thousands of San Antonians have very deep connections to our property as the site of the former Kelly Air Force Base, where generations of families built good lives thanks to the jobs created in support of military aviation,” said Port Board Chair Chris Alderete. “The planned innovation center and expansion of our cyber facilities open new doors of opportunity in the century ahead. For generations, people in our community have been praised for their hard work ethic and spirit of innovation. As we advance these development plans in the months ahead, we look forward to creating new and exciting places where our people’s talent can be further showcased and connected with a world of big opportunities.”
“The future belongs to innovators, and in an increasingly connected world, innovations are grounded in making essential physical and virtual connections,” said Port President and CEO Jim Perschbach. “Our planned facilities are designed to do exactly that: connect people to educational paths, connect people to employers and connect those employers to a global marketplace. In today’s world, those opportunities are in the digital space–from securing networks and critical infrastructure to increasing productivity across a spectrum of mature industries such as transportation, medicine and advanced manufacturing. All of these sectors have deep roots in San Antonio and all can come together and participate in our growing innovation ecosystem.”
“The continued transformation of the Port into a national tech center is critical for the economic competitiveness of the next generation of San Antonians,” said David Cibrian, CEO of American Triple I Partners. “The Port’s Board and management team is executing on a vision that makes our city a national thought and action leader in cybersecurity, research and development, engineering, and high-tech education. American Triple I is committed to supporting the Port as it amplifies the intellectual and human capital of San Antonio, a city which is already home to recognized technology and cyber innovators.”
The proposed innovation center would provide a unique and comprehensive platform to strengthen connections between educators and technology employers. It would also serve to showcase new technologies developed by the community and provide a platform to market those innovations to buyers throughout the nation and around the world.
According to the initial conceptual plans which Port San Antonio has shared during several public forums in recent months, the innovation center space would be comprised of five key elements:
- Co-working / maker spaces – A large space on the east side of the building would allow different employers from IT and other technology sectors—as well as universities—to work side-by-side in the development of the next generation of innovations. That area could be configured to meet the needs of different users and projects, supported by adjoining classroom and meeting / conference spaces.
- Technology arena / conference center – The west section of the building would be comprised of a large multi-purpose state-of-the art arena with capacity for up to 1,500 people. It would include large video monitors and movable seating to serve different users. It would be a key attraction for young people, since the space could host electronic gaming and other technology competitions such as robotics and drone racing. The same space could also serve the defense community and other employers as a place uniquely suited for technology demonstrations, conferences and trade shows. Educators could access the space as well, hosting activities such as cybersecurity competitions.
- Technology museum – The central part of the building will enable the growth of the San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology (SAMSAT). The organization first established its preview center at a different 15,000-square-foot facility at the Port in 2016. Since that time, in partnership with SASTEMIC, area schools and other educators, it has attracted thousands of students to the Port campus and has become a key partner in delivering STEM-focused programming. The planned expansion of the museum at the new innovation center would also enable involvement by additional tech- and education-focused organizations, such as the San Antonio Airpower Heritage Foundation and the Airman’s Heritage Foundation.
- Amenities – Given the large number of visitors and many activities that the innovation center could host simultaneously, it will create robust demand for amenities. A section will be dedicated for food service providers and retailers.
- Industry showplace – As an extension of the museum, a large portion of space would be accessible to the general public and showcase new technologies developed in the co-working area, elsewhere on the Port campus or throughout San Antonio. In addition to enhancing the museum experience, the showroom would play a key role in the community by allowing industries to connect directly with potential buyers around the world.
The second project outlined by the MOU would entail further planning for a new technology office building elsewhere on the campus. This effort builds upon the success of the first facility launched at the Port’s Project Tech complex, which was completed in mid-2018.
The first 90,000-square-foot phase was created to support expansions by the growing number of cybersecurity firms moving onto the Port campus in recent years. Many of them support the 24th Air Force / Cyber Command headquarters, located within a few hundred feet on the east side of the property, as well as other military cybersecurity and intelligence operations in the region.
Like the innovation center, the Port and Triple I will collaborate during the 120-day pre-development phase to further gauge demand and refine design concepts for a second building at Project Tech.