SpaceX’s Starship development program has been active at Boca Chica for a couple of years now, and a lot of the company’s roughly 1,500 employees live in Brownsville. However, SpaceX itself hasn’t had an actual footprint in the city until now.
Earlier this month, the company signed leases with the Brownsville South Padre Island Airport (BRO) for 46,000 square feet of warehouse space and a neighboring private industrial park owned by PacVentures for 60,000 square feet of warehouse space. Francisco Partida, the airport’s special projects manager, said talks with SpaceX about leasing the former Taylorcraft building at 2100 Les Mauldin Road began in mid-July.
The company was looking for 100,000 square feet of warehouse, which the airport couldn’t supply, though SpaceX found the additional square footage it needed in the privately owned industrial park at 1900 Billy Mitchell Blvd., he said.
“They needed something that was already built just to keep up with (Starship) production, because as you know construction takes time,” Partida said.
SpaceX is building Starship prototypes and Super Heavy booster rockets at an accelerated pace at Boca Chica as it prepares for the first orbital test flight from the site. The Brownsville warehouses will be used to support the company’s Starship development program. Partida said one of the SpaceX project managers said the airport warehouse is “ideal for mostly inventory, but also potentially some light manufacturing.”
Commercial real estate broker Alejandro Garza confirmed the PacVentures lease with SpaceX but said he didn’t know for certain what the company planned to do on the property. Partida said it’s his understanding that SpaceX plans to employ about 100 people between the two locations. The company agreed to do about $500,000 of repairs and retrofitting on the airport warehouse, which has suffered from neglect, in exchange for a break on the rent, he said.
It’s essentially the same type of deal the airport gave Greyhound when it invested $2 million in an airport property for a bus maintenance and repair facility the company brought to Brownsville a few years ago, Partida said.
“We did a plan of rent abatement for the first three or four years to allow them to recoup some of the cost,” he said. “We treat all tenants equally, so we offered the same deal, the same conditions basically.”
Partida said the airport had relocated a logistics company out of the old Taylorcraft building because of its poor condition and was waiting on funding for repairs when the SpaceX opportunity came up.
Having SpaceX as a tenant, besides the rent it will bring in and the money the company is spending on repairs, is great public relations for the airport, he said. Partida said he was glad to be part of making it happen, along with the city of Brownsville and the Greater Brownsville Improvement Corporation.
“They really haven’t set foot officially in Brownsville,” he said. “It’s always been over there at that (Boca Chica) site. We know their employees are here. We know they’ve bought properties and they’re driving the real estate market through the roof, but the company itself, they really hadn’t made an investment in a building in the city. To have that anchor finally being dropped in the city, that’s great.
“We were already on the map, but now having SpaceX and being able to go out there to all the public-private-partnership conferences and symposiums, I think it’s going to give us the extra visibility that we need and potentially start attracting suppliers. SpaceX obviously does a lot of things in-house but at the same time they also have to rely on third-party vendors that are into space manufacturing.”
Partida noted that the airport is taking the steps necessary to become an officially licensed spaceport, with GBIC covering the cost of that process, and that having SpaceX on the airport can only make success more likely.
Helen Ramirez, deputy city manager and CEO and executive director of GBIC, who helped connect SpaceX with the airport property, said it’s a big step in the push by GBIC and the city to cultivate a space ecosystem here.
“They’re also a very good partner in terms of job creation,” she said. “From what I see … they continue to expand their job growth in Brownsville and the greater Brownsville area, and the region as well. They draw a lot from Brownsville of course but they also draw from Cameron County and the region.”
Ramirez said SpaceX is already attracting other space-related companies and that the city has open arms for any viable firm tied to aerospace or technology, including vendors.
“These companies are welcome to come to locate and grow in Brownsville,” she said. “That’s the message, that we’re a very pro-business and pro-aerospace city.”
Landing SpaceX in Brownsville is a prime example of what’s possible when multiple entities — in this case the city, GBIC and the airport — work together and share resources, Ramirez said.
Airport Director Bryant Walker said in an email SpaceX’s presence should serve as a catalyst for plans to develop the airport’s land side.
“With efforts to become a licensed Spaceport currently underway, and by signing SpaceX as a tenant, the establishment and expansion of BRO’s Aerospace Industrial Park is further reinforced and moving faster than anticipated,” he said. “With the space industry’s projected value to hit close to $3 trillion in the next 30 years, the City and Airport hope to continue to attract more companies that support this new era of commercial space exploration.”