The Air Force Academy on Friday unveiled ambitious plans to make its new $35 million visitor center a "Gateway to Colorado Springs," including nearby hotels, offices, an indoor skydiving facility and a Sante Fe Trailhead Center.
The proposed development - part of Colorado Springs' City for Champions initiative - will span 57 acres by the academy's north gate with construction beginning as soon as 2019.
The 35,000-square-foot centerpiece, shown for the first time in artist's renderings revealed Friday, is a soaring white structure with four winglike roofs, each roof pitched higher than the last so that the visitor center looks like it's taking flight.
Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria revealed the plans at the conclusion of his "State of the Academy" address during the Founder's Day celebration.
"I think it will be incredibly beneficial to not only the Air Force Academy but the city of Colorado Springs and really truly the entire region," he said. It will be a "Gateway to the city of Colorado Springs," he added.
The project will be funded through the military's construction budget as well as private donors.
"This project is an excellent example of public-private partnership using innovation, creativity and integration with our community," Silveria said.
The visitor center would have a 250-seat theater, a 250-space parking lot and room for 10 tour buses. It would also house a shop to sell academy merchandise, a food court and a museum delving into the academy history and mission. The plan includes housing a center for tourist information on the Pikes Peak region, making it the front door for tourists coming in on I-25. Projections of new, out-of-state visitors to the center are 158,670 a year.
Other upcoming projects include closing the iconic academy chapel for four years of repair and renovations to the football stadium's locker rooms.
Leading up to the announcement, Silveria delivered a candid reflection on the academy's past year.
He began by highlighting an incident at the academy's prep school in which five African-American cadet candidates were targeted with a racial slur. An investigation revealed that one of the five targeted individuals was responsible.
Regardless of who was responsible, the incident allowed for some sober reflection across the academy, Silveria said, emphasizing the importance of the academy's diversity.
"A diverse force is really what makes us stronger and what makes us more lethal," he said.
Cadets graduating in May will fill every job in the Air Force, he said. But about 500 cadets - half of the graduating class - will go on to pilot training after the academy.
The rest will fill active duty jobs in much needed areas such as cyber and space, Silveria said.
But many cadets can practice for their future roles while at the academy.
Cadets in the FalconSAT program are set to launch a satellite into orbit soon, with another scheduled for launch during the fall. The program controls the FalconSAT-5 mission already in orbit.
"That's three satellites being controlled here by cadets," he said. "Many countries don't have three satellites."
Silveria discussed the 22,000 hours of community service by cadets this year and an alternative spring break program that sent 99 cadets to nine separate locations to support Habitat for Humanity in March.
But Silveria did not shy away from the negative attention the academy has received over the past year.
He addressed a command-initiated investigation of the academy's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office and recent reports of hazing in the school's swimming and lacrosse teams.
"I am disgusted and outraged by any incidence of sexual assault here or in the United States Air Force," Silveria said.
The academy will address issues such as sexual assault directly and transparently, he said.
One way the academy plans to tackle the issue is by hosting a Pathways to Thriving summit April 9-10, bringing together sexual assault survivors, experts, cadets and academy leadership to discuss prevention and support.
Labeling sexual assault as a "societal issue," Silveria said the academy will be part of the national dialogue moving forward.
Silveria also announced plans to enable cadets to leave the academy as fully certified remote piloted aircraft operators, allowing graduates go directly to active duty drones units.
Preparing cadets for the next step was central to Silveria's message.
"We need lieutenants that innovate and are steeped in warrior ethos and have impeccable character," he said. "They need to be more capable than ever and more lethal than ever to take on the challenges of our current battle-spaces."