Two Michoud proposals eyed
By Lisa Monti
August 2014
...NEW ORLEANS, La. -- With plans to develop about 300 underutilized acres of
green space around Michoud Assembly Facility, NASA could be just 18 months away
from seeing new tenants at the 43-acre manufacturing facility in east New Orleans.
...The space agency is looking for developments that would complement the varied
work that’s under way at Michoud while helping to pay for its operations. It issued a
notice in early May seeking input from parties interested in developing the green
space around Michoud. It has two proposals from developers that it’s studying and
says it is open to accepting more.
...Though no details are available at this early stage, potential tenants could include
the manufacturers of new types of rocket engines or space habitats.
...NASA’s Jim Taylor, site development coordinator for Michoud at Marshall Space
Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., said Michoud has been in “a transitional state” since
the facility stopped producing external tanks for the Space Shuttle in 2011. Since
then, Michoud has been shifting to a supporting role for the manufacture and
assembly of the core stage of NASA’s massive Space Launch System and the Orion
crew capsule.
...“NASA is looking for ways to better utilize the facility because our newer
approaches to manufacturing don’t require us to completely use the facility like we
did with the external tank,” Taylor said.
...The tanks were made using the 1960s vintage vertically integrated manufacturing
approach, he said, “where metal came in one end and an external tank went out the
other end.”
...The SLS manufacturing process is “more horizontally distributed,” he said. “A lot
more of the components are going to be built by the supplier networks for Boeing,
the prime contractor so it will be more of an assembly operation than a full out
manufacturing operation.”
...That’s like the way Airbus will be building A320 jetliners in Mobile, Ala. Huge
sections will be shipped to Mobile then put together at the plant.
...That approach requires less building space so NASA embarked on a site
development strategy in 2011 to find complementary uses for Michoud’s facilities to
help pay for its operations.
...“We have been fairly successful in recruiting complementary users of the facilities,”
Taylor said. Lockheed Martin, a major tenant, is building composite components for
Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser commercial launch vehicle. “So that’s solid
complementary use in the sense that it doesn’t impede what NASA is trying to do and
it also uses similar skill sets. That is another thing that’s important to us, maintaining
that skill base in case it’s needed for NASA activities.”
...One of the operations that makes use of large areas of the Michoud Assembly
Facility has nothing to do with space missions but it’s helping NASA pay the bills and
preserve the facilities for possible future use.
...“Movie studios set up sets in the high-bay areas and then remove them. The facility
stays intact and they help share that fixed cost,” he said.
...Taylor said NASA has been successful in using that complementary use strategy.
...“We are not fully utilized but we are getting close to 85 to 90 percent occupancy,”
he said. In the commercial world that would be considered full utilization. Most of the
unused space is suitable for small supplier operations.
...Taylor said some tenants have been so successful at Michoud that they may need
additional room for expanding their operations, but space isn’t available. That
prompted NASA to move on to explore the development of the green space.
...It was always in NASA’s master plan, he said, to make use of the space through
public-private ventures in which a company would build their own facility on
government space. It’s one of the steps that leads to the creation of technology and
business parks.
...“They can take advantage of the unique characteristics that we offer and further
allow us to recoup some of our fixed costs,” he said.
...The potential development activity is something the city of New Orleans and the
state of Louisiana support, he said. “It creates jobs, it’s economic development
activity,” he said.
...NASA is working with Delgado Community College to transfer three acres for the
expansion of its neighboring training facility, Taylor said.
...“The rest of the property is available and is in our secure perimeter and has all the
amenities we offer at Michoud with security and infrastructure in place to readily
support manufacturing activities - aerospace or otherwise,” Taylor said.
...Since Katrina, NASA has improved Michoud’s flood protection system. “We put in a
redundant pumping station and backup capability and we have state of the art
remote operations where we can operate the facility remotely from Stennis Space
Center (Miss.), which is in a better position to withstand a hurricane.”
...NASA is offering some 300 acres of land to developers and is initially targeting two
areas to kick off the new development phase.
...One prime 10-acre site fronts Old Gentilly Road and has utilities in place. Another
site of 25 acres was used by the Coast Guard as a temporary facility after Katrina. It
has utilities, parking and is similar to an outparcel at a shopping center development.
...“Those two areas we would want to target initially to get through this process,”
Taylor said. “We’re looking for, if you will, that anchor or pilot tenant. This is a pretty
new thing for everybody and getting that first one done is a huge step.”
...NASA is working with the General Services Administration’s network of appraisers
to do a market appraisal based on the New Orleans market. The added value of
Michoud’s amenities will figure into the appraisal. Taylor said NASA hopes to have
the report back in late summer or fall so a lease price can be determined.
...NASA is evaluating the two responses it received from developers to its proposal
and although the deadline has passed, the agency will continue to accept responses.
It’s possible both interested developers could end up developing different sites,
Taylor said. There is no exclusivity in the projects.
...“We want to get them on site and show them more about the site and talk more
about what it’s going to cost,” Taylor said. “We’ll let them do their feasibility if they
have got a customer in mind. Then let’s put a lease in place.”

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