Officials Take First Step Toward Drone Tech Park in North Dakota

With an enhanced-use lease agreement between Grand Forks County and the local Air Force base inked, one developer and his team will begin construction on the park this spring.

by Brandi Jewett, Grand Forks Herald / February 19, 2015

(TNS) -- County, state and national officials signed on the dotted line today to kick off an unmanned aircraft systems project considered the first of its kind in the nation.

With an enhanced-use lease agreement between Grand Forks Air Force Base and Grand Forks County inked and a few details left to hammer out, developer Tom Swoyer Jr. and his team can get started on Grand Sky, a UAS business and technology park slotted for the rented land near the base.

"We don't know what the future (of UAS) holds," said Swoyer, president of Grand Sky Development. "We do know the future will be right here on Grand Forks Air Force Base."

Swoyer said he wants to begin construction as soon as possible this spring. Architectural preparations will be begin next week, he added.

More than 100 guests were present for the ceremony and heard from several state officials who commended the group that put together the pitch for the lease.

"The enhanced-use lease represents another very important milestone in the development of our UAS industry," Gov. Jack Dalrymple said.

Flying in from Washington D.C. for the ceremony was Kathleen Ferguson, principal deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Air Force for installations, environment and energy.

Ferguson said the business park couldn't be located in a better place and it epitomized the type of arrangement of the Air Force seeks to use land such as the empty acres where Grand Sky will be built.

Lease terms

Grand Sky will be constructed on 217 acres of land to the southwest of the base and offer 1.2 million square feet of space for businesses to operate, conduct research and store equipment.

Customers also would have access to a base runway once another agreement for its use is completed.

In a previous interview with the Herald, Swoyer said he expects both established and startup businesses to seek space in Grand Sky.

Manufacturer Northrop Grumman has already signed a letter of intent to be the development's anchor tenant.

The lease between the county and base is 50 years. In turn, the county will sublease to Grand Sky Development for that period.

Development of the land is predicted to earn the air base between $40 and $75 million during the the lease term.

Estimates for jobs created by the park come in at about 3,000 both inside and outside of Grand Sky.

©2015 the Grand Forks Herald (Grand Forks, N.D.)

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