The Air Force on Wednesday chose Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, for the new home of the U.S. Space Command, bypassing San Antonio.
The selection came after months of evaluating six cities, including San Antonio and the command’s current base in Colorado, and was announced by Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey following a call from Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations Bob Moriarty.
An official announcement from the Pentagon was planned for Wednesday afternoon, the governor said in a statement.
A total of 50 cities submitted proposals in a bidding process that allowed any state with large military bases to compete for the 11th combat command, currently based at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado.
In November, the Air Force named Port San Antonio as a finalist among six sites to house the Space Command, a functional command of the Space Force, which was established over a year ago by the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.
That announcement came after local leaders in October traveled to Washington, D.C., and met with officials tasked with evaluating and selecting a new home for the coveted Space Command. The other locations on the short list were Patrick AFB in Florida; Kirtland AFB in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Offutt AFB, in Omaha, Nebraska; Redstone; and Peterson AFB, which was considered to have the advantage.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg said at the time that the command would be a “huge win” for San Antonio, as a point of pride and prestige for a city so heavily involved in the nation’s defense, but also for bringing 1,400 well-paid jobs and opportunities for growth in the private sector as well.
The selection committee visited San Antonio on Dec. 12 and again on Dec. 21. “What they’re looking for is the place where the U.S. Space Command can develop and grow into this next era and I don’t think there’s a better city or a better community out there than San Antonio for that effort,” Nirenberg said last month.
On Wednesday, Nirenberg said it was an honor to be among the finalists and to highlight the city’s assets in cybersecurity, medical, and training missions, as well as Port San Antonio, where the command would have been based.
“By being part of this process, we ensured that we remain on the Pentagon’s short list as a welcoming, well-positioned home for our existing military missions as well as future missions,” he said. “We will be continuing the conversations with military leaders and our local partners working toward future opportunities.”
Jenna Saucedo-Herrera, president and CEO of the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation who was also involved in conversations with the Pentagon, echoed Nirenberg’s response.
“We are incredibly encouraged by the conversations we had with military leaders through this process – San Antonio is on their radar and our value is clear: Important defense commands can and will thrive here,” she stated. “We are confident that Military City USA will realize dividends from this process by way of important defense projects in the near future.”
Maj. Gen. Juan Ayala, director of military and veteran affairs for the City of San Antonio and a member of the delegation promoting the city, said that vying for the command was a rigorous process. “We wish we would have been the first choice,” he said. “I think top six really highlights us for future looks at basing decisions.”
Established in 1941, Redstone Arsenal is an Army post located in the northern Alabama city of Huntsville, which has a population of 180,000. The Arsenal is a garrison for a number of tenants, including NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, the Army Materiel Command, the Army’s Aviation and Missile Command, and the Missile Defense Agency of the Department of Defense.
In announcing the selection, Ivey said Alabama “has long provided exceptional support for our military and their families as well as a rich and storied history when it comes to space exploration. This combination only enhances the outstanding relationships we have with the 65 diverse federal agencies on Redstone Arsenal, not to mention the growing presence of the [Federal Bureau of Investigations].”
But Colorado officials suggested in statements following the announcement that politics played a role in the selection of a site in Alabama, a state that has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1980.
“Reports that the in-depth military process found Colorado Springs to be the best location for military readiness and cost and recommended Colorado to the president only to be overruled for politically motivated reasons are deeply concerning,” stated Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera, both Democrats.
Ayala, who served as commander of military installations for the Marine Corps, said basing decisions are ultimately made at the top. “I can tell you from experience that everybody got to the 20-yard line, getting ready to go in, but the last decisions are really … made by members of the administration … I may be totally wrong, but that’s my opinion.”
The Air Force has said that once a site is chosen, it will take up to six years to build the new command facilities. During that time, it will remain at Peterson AFB.