Privatization Success at Kennedy Space Center

Florida Today space beat writer John Kelly has an interesting article looking back at the first 15 years of privatized operations of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (emphasis mine):

Locals, particularly space workers and retirees, were mad. Some felt gouged by a private company charging them admission to see property they already paid for once, through taxes. Others felt cheated they couldn’t afford to take family and friends to see their very cool workplace.

Over the years, complaints subsided. I can’t remember the last time I got one. I can’t be sure why, but I suspect it’s partly because people realize NASA’s decision to privatize the visitor center improved its quality and guaranteed its very survival.

The Visitor Complex used to be free, but you got what you paid for. The privatization provided a way for millions of dollars worth of investments in a deteriorating facility. In tight budget times, under government operation, it could have gotten worse or been closed.

Under the management of Delaware North Companies the last 15 years, the complex has transformed itself into an extraordinary attraction unlike any other experience. No NASA center has a visitor complex like this one.

The privatization of the tourist complex has provided for major improvements that would never have been possible if NASA had to run it using taxpayer money. […]

Additionally, Delaware North’s team connects with the community. With 700-plus workers, the company is a major employer and a big player in tourism development. The company gets solid performance marks in its regular contract reviews. This year, the company and its workers were recognized as Business of the Year in the FLORIDA TODAY Volunteer Recognition Awards for their spirit of giving back.

Last week, NASA decided to hire Delaware North to run the complex for another 10-20 years through a time of ambitious expansion and the likely addition of a shuttle orbiter. Why? NASA doesn’t get into the reasons because of arcane government contracting rules. My guess: the track record so far and a desire to do more.

Read the whole thing for more details on what looks to be a very successful federal privatization initiative.