Authored by Wayne Heilman, Photo Credit: Carol Lawrence, The Gazette This article was published in the Colorado Springs Gazette.

To its developers, Catalyst Campus is more than just a business park. It is a tool to bring companies that will create hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in federal government contracts to Colorado Springs.

The O’Neil Group Co. and its partners have invested $10 million in buying, remodeling and upgrading the technology of the former Santa Fe Railroad station and two adjacent buildings at 555-559 E. Pikes Peak Ave. And they expect to spend up to $10 million more to complete the work – making the campus one of Colorado’s most technologically advanced.

The company hopes to make the campus a hub for dozens of startup cybersecurity and space operations businesses that eventually could employ more than 1,000 people and win contracts totaling hundreds of millions of dollars.

“The value to our community is not about brick and mortar, it is about economic impacting engines around labor, customer revenue streams, profits, wealth and employment that will, by the time we’re done with Phase 1, be measured in the tens of millions, and in the future could be hundreds of millions,” O’Neil Group CEO Kevin O’Neil said.

“The real value of Catalyst Campus is in the excitement of R&D labs, startup companies and established companies having a place to collaborate on new innovations that will generate products and services that can be delivered from our community to the nation and internationally,” O’Neil continued.

Fertile ground for startups

Catalyst campus will include three primary elements:

– A open office area to be completed this month where entrepreneurs focusing on cybersecurity and space operations can rent a desk starting at $250 a month and later move into one-room offices that can accommodate 6-10 employees as their startups grow.

That area, which could accommodate up to 50 startups, will feature a conference room equipped with Internet access of up to 10 gigabits per second, or about 100 times faster than the fastest home access, an onsite restaurant and a meeting room with a capacity of 125 people.

The center is one of four such facilities around the state. They are designed to help defense contractors grow, adopt new technologies and diversify into new markets but can be used by any member of the technology alliance for presentations to clients worldwide and online meetings with partners.

The meeting room will be called the Harvey House and is being restored to its historic look as the first franchised location of a restaurant chain operating under that name in Santa Fe Railroad stations that opened there in 1917.

Other parts of the station also will be restored to their original look.

“If you’re a small company doing a presentation to a client and you can use a room like this, it gives you a leg up from being in Colorado Springs and at this campus,” said Frank Backes, president of the Center for Technology, Research and Commercialization, a nonprofit created by the O’Neil Group and based at the campus for technology transfer.

“Traditional office space with access to high-speed Internet, high-end conference rooms and R&D labs would cost about $20 a square foot (annually), but because we are sharing these services, the cost is dramatically lower than trying to buy these services themselves,” Backes added.

– An advanced cybersecurity and space operations center to control satellites and combat computer network hackers, as well as a small data center, secure facility space and research and development laboratories for training workers to integrate data from satellites, ground-based sensors and other sources.

The operations center, data center, secure space and labs are expected to be completed by August and will be expanded to nearly twice as much space when a lease begins next year for a call center now located in the same building.

The Cyber and Space Operations Center will be paid for in part by a $750,000 grant from the Colorado Economic Development Commission through its Advanced Industry Accelerator Grant Program to further development of satellite, space and GPS technologies for military and commercial use.

– An office building with office suites for lawyers, accountants and others that want to provide services to startups and other tenants, as well as offices for Braxton Science & Technology Group, a military contractor owned by O’Neil Group, and other companies that want to work with the startups at the campus to win government contracts.

Dale Anderson, aide to U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, called the campus “a one-of-a-kind collaborative center and a genuine American business model that will give every high-tech business startup a fair shot at competing in a fast-paced market and advancing industries.”

That, Anderson said, provides “extraordinary value” to the state.

Plans to expand campus

The 8-acre campus at Pikes Peak and Colorado avenues now houses three buildings with nearly 100,000 square feet of space, or about half the size of a Walmart Supercenter, and has land to accommodate several more buildings.

The campus could triple in size if O’Neil Group can conclude negotiations with Transmit Mix Concrete Co. to buy 17 adjacent acres, Backes said.

That would allow Catalyst room to expand during the next five to 10 years to more than a dozen buildings totaling 1 million square feet, or slightly smaller than The Citadel mall, he said.

“This is a 25- to 30-year project for this community,” Backes said. “El Paso County has the highest concentration of aerospace and Department of Defense jobs – more than 50,000 jobs and $2 billion a year in DOD contracts in 2014.

That is why a hub built around these technologies is needed to keep those jobs and that revenue local and grow it.

“This hub is an anchor for technologies that are in a growth mode, including cybersecurity, small and more agile satellites, global persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance – all driven by the growing threat of terrorism.”

O’Neil Group developed plans for Catalyst two years ago, after Braxton won two small contracts totaling $300,000 to develop satellite resource scheduling and simulation.

But success meant it soon needed specialized office and laboratory space for the company and its subcontractors to complete the work, Backes said.

Those plans eventually grew into a campus that would house startups and other companies that could work together on cutting-edge cybersecurity and satellite technology.

Braxton and other tenants at the campus won eight contracts last year totaling $3 million and are expected to win 20 contracts over the next few years totaling $90 million.

One of this year’s contracts is a two-year “multimillion-dollar” award to the Center for Technology Research and Commercialization at the campus from the Air Force Research Laboratory for technology transfer and advancement where much of the work will be done by alliance members that are campus tenants, Backes said.

“This is why this campus needs to exist,” said Backes, who is also a Braxton executive. “By ourselves, Braxton couldn’t attract this level of research and development to this community, but with the partnership of many companies at Catalyst, we can multiply our economic impact on the community.”