Pima County approves new lease for space tourism company World View

KOLD News 6-6:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Jan. 10, 2023 at 6:47 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - World View, a local space tourism company has a new lease with Pima County after the original lease led to a lawsuit from the conservative Goldwater Institute.

The Pima County Board of Supervisors approved the new lease in a four to one vote Tuesday after a lengthy discussion about possible negative ramifications this could bring about.

This new lease is like starting over with World View. This all comes after a ruling that the county violated the state’s gift clause by building the $14 million headquarters for the company. This new lease is meant to avoid those legal issues, but some still have concerns.

“It just happened too quickly without enough attention and without enough transparency,” said District 4 Supervisor Steve Christy. “It made me uncomfortable. It didn’t feel right. It didn’t pass the smell test. This is not how you enter into a long term lease of these proportions.”

Supervisor Christy was the only one on the board to vote against the approval of this new lease. Christy said the board only had 24-hours to review the proposed agreement. Supervisor Christy also said his biggest objection is not having enough time to thoroughly go through the new lease before it was approved by the board. But on top of the Goldwater Lawsuits, there are other concerns.

“First and foremost, can World View afford this lease?” Christy questioned. “Granted it is a privately owned corporation, but they are leasing public lands, so I feel that there needs to be a certain amount of transparency on world view’s part.”

During the ruling that potentially jeopardized the lease, world view stopped paying rent and they owe over $400,000. The company has agreed to pay it back to the county as part of the agreement on the new lease. There are a number of other changes to the lease, including a purchase option at the end of the lease period.

″I think one of the big differences is now it’s a series of five-year contracts,” said County Administrator Jan Lesher. " We’ve just entered into a new contract of a five year period. It can be renewed for four additional five-year periods, but I think what’s significant about that is we can reboot the appraise price at that point.”

Lesher said this will give the county more flexibility and a safeguard when it comes to those terms and they’ll be able to base the appraisal price on a percentage of the fair market value. Another big change – the employee benchmark has been significantly lowered. In the original contract, World View was required to hire 400 workers, now that’s down to 125.

“What I think we have now is a more realistic number that we can track. Previously that number was based on what world view is anticipating as the final and total employment of the company. The reality is , there is only so many people who can fit inside that building,” she explained.

Now that the new lease has been approved, World View will be required to employ at least 90 full-time workers in 2023.

Lesher says the next steps will be working on a new economic impact study and an operation agreement lease for Spaceport Tucson will be discussed at the supervisors meeting on January 24.

KOLD News 13 reached out to World View and Goldwater Institute for a comment about the new lease agreement, but both said weren’t commenting at this time.