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Air Force Academy offers first look at design for new welcome center

Groundbreaking expected next year

Air Force Academy provides first look at design for new welcome center

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Five years after it was proposed, initial designs for a new visitors center at the Air Force Academy have been released.

An artist's renderings of the project shows a white building with glass walls and four roofs resembling aircraft wings.  Each roof is higher than the one before it, to create the appearance of an aircraft taking off.

The center will occupy 35,000 square feet and cost $35 million, financed by the Department of Defense and private donations.

The entire project, covering 57 acres, will include hotels, office space, a theater, a parking lot, a gift shop, a food court, a museum and a tourist information center.

The project likely will be built east of the north gate entrance so that visitors won't have to pass through the security checkpoint.

Planners said the project also will serve as a gateway to Colorado Springs.

"At one time, the academy visitors center was the No. 1 man-made tourist attraction in the state and it was bringing around 800,000 visitors a year," said Bob Cope, the city's economic development officer.  "After 9/11 and tightened security, that dropped to around 400,000.  We think we can get back to that 800,000 again, and maybe better."

The center was first proposed in 2013 by former Mayor Steve Bach, and is one of four projects in his City 4 Champions vision to promote local tourism.

Construction began last year on an Olympic Museum downtown, groundbreaking on a sports medicine research center at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs is expected next year and plans continue for some kind of a downtown sports or events center.

The new Air Force Academy project is expected to be ready by 2024.

In a related matter, the academy pushed back its timetable for repairing its iconic Cadet Chapel, built in 1963.

The academy first planned to close the chapel this summer but now will wait until February.

Workers will spend three to four years repairing leaks in the chapel by strengthening the aluminum skin, stiffening the steel frame, installing a water barrier and cleaning 24,000 pieces of stained glass. 

The repairs will affect primarily the Protestant chapel on the upper floor, and the academy will provide other worship locations for attendees of that chapel.

The repair cost has yet to be determined.

The chapel is a National Historic Landmark.


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