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How the Space Symposium Leverages All Colorado Springs Can Offer Meetings

“Everyone has a place in Space,” according to Space Foundation’s vice president, strategic communications and outreach, Richard B. Cooper.

Creating awareness of that is a key tenet of the Foundation’s mission, which is why the Space Foundation’s Discovery Center venue that recently reopened in Colorado Springs (June 1, 2024) has more activities, exhibits and 3,000 square feet of new meeting space. There’s even room for the only full-scale model of the James Webb Space Telescope (currently in crates). When assembled, “it will be three-and-a-half stories, just bigger than a tennis court,” Cooper noted. “We're looking forward to when we put that model on display and help people understand how the instrument is literally going to rewrite everything we know about astronomy and our universe.”

By meetings and convention standards, the Discovery Center may be a smallish venue, but it is only one indication of the Foundation’s massive impact on Colorado Springs.  

A Homegrown Citywide

Space Symposium 2024 exhibit hall
Space Symposium 2024 exhibit hall. Credit: Space Foundation

Except for the pandemic year of 2020, the Foundation, which has been a part of Colorado Springs since 1983, has held its annual Space Symposium—Colorado Springs’ only citywide—since 1984.  

“When you're looking at anywhere from 10 to 15,000 people in a city of this size,” said Danielle Austin, director of events at the Space Foundation, “it comes with its own set of challenges for sure. Housing is a challenge. Transportation is a challenge. But we've been doing this so long that every year, it gets a little better.”

The latest iteration of the event, the 39th annual Space Symposium, held April 8-11, 2024, swelled the city of over 500,000 with more than 12,000 attendees and 384 speakers; it also had 245 standalone exhibits from all over the world.  

Since its inception, the Space Symposium has become a bustling marketplace for government agencies and space entrepreneurship.  

“You will see a cross-section of the world, and that is very exciting,” Cooper said. “You see the different military uniforms—from Spain, South Korea, UK, Canada, Australia—and go to the exhibit floor, where 30 companies have come from Japan, and 20 some-odd companies have come from Italy. A tremendous amount of business is done.”

[Related: 5 Outdoor Teambuilding Activities in Colorado Springs]

New Venues to Explore in Colorado Springs

Bartolin Hall Main Entrance at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs
Bartolin Hall main entrance, The Broadmoor. Credit: The Broadmoor

The Space Symposium’s annual takeover of Colorado Springs also exemplifies the possibilities the city’s venues offer to all events.

Since 2021, the Symposium has used The Broadmoor’s latest space, Bartolin Hall, which added nearly 100,000 square feet to the property, bringing the campus-wide total to approximately 315,000 square feet.  

This year, the Symposium not only took over The Broadmoor, the Cheyenne Mountain Resort and about 30 hotels throughout the city, but it also took charge of the roadways.  

“As you come up Lake Street en route to The Broadmoor, there's really one major way in and out,” explained Austin. “We've got 30 external hotels, and they all have their own shuttles. Getting stuck in the traffic was throwing off show schedules and was a nightmare for our attendees.”  

This year, a new traffic pattern fixed all that. The planning team took a long, hard look at how the traffic was getting backed up. “We kind of rearranged the road structure,” Austin continued. “We took a turn lane and made that for shuttles only. It was a big win for us and something that we're going to keep moving forward.”

More venues coming online in Colorado Springs soon will only expand the options for the Symposium and other events.

“The Mining Exchange Hotel downtown is almost through with renovations and will rebrand as an independent boutique property, the 8,000-seat Sunset Amphitheater will open this August and the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) Welcome & Visitors Center, near the new Hotel Polaris, will open in the next couple of years,” said Kathy Reak, VP of sales at Visit Colorado Springs.

Additionally, the Hotel Polaris is expected to open this fall, with 26,000 square feet of meeting space, including 11,000 square feet of prefunction space.

Military Strength of Colorado Springs

Gen. Stephen Whiting speaks at 2024 Space Symposium
Gen. Stephen Whiting speaks at 2024 Space Symposium. Credit: Space Foundation

The military presence in Colorado Springs can be a major benefit to events like the Symposium. Many of the Symposium’s 384 speakers are locally sourced from Colorado Springs’ five military bases, which include leading figures at North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and Space Command.

For Austin, scheduling and following protocols for bigwigs is one of the hardest parts of the Symposium’s logistics. Cooper agreed, adding, “You have to recognize that an executive or a government person may have somewhere else they need to be, like testifying before Congress. We have learned to adapt.”

Since Colorado Springs itself has such a military presence, security is an issue mainly handled from within, said Reak. “For top-security meetings, most happen at a base where they have proper and secure areas to discuss classified information. Hotels must have specialized equipment to host one of these meetings, as public Wi-Fi will not meet their need for top security.”  

“The safety and security of everyone who comes to Space Symposium is a priority for all of us,” Cooper acknowledged. “A military or government person obviously needs to go through the respective clearance process to make sure that they are eligible to enter the United States.”  

Not all Symposium speakers are military, statespersons or captains of industry, however. Some past speakers like Leonard Nimoy and Sigourney Weaver were “space-adjacent” personalities who have helped promote awareness of the cosmos.

Then there’s recognition of the beneficial technologies from space research; for example, one of this year’s inductees to the Space Technology Hall of Fame is being acknowledged for a re-mineralizing toothpaste derived from a NASA patent. Initiatives like these, Cooper points out, communicate to the public just some of the many returns on investment provided by space exploration.

[Related: Plan Environmentally Friendly Meetings and Events in Denver, Boulder and Colorado Springs]

An Evolving Frontier

As a meeting, Space Symposium is constantly evolving.  

“When Space Symposium started 40 years ago, space was primarily a government-driven activity,” Cooper noted. “Today, people come from the industry and around the world.” The industry, he said, is developing new contractors for spacecraft, as well as bringing women and diverse groups into spaceflight.  

“More countries have spacecraft going up to space—and taking people up to space—than ever before. That is a huge change from when the program first kicked off 40 years ago. And that's what makes it such an incredible experience for people to come and engage and form and connect.”


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Terri Hardin

Terri Hardin covers destination infrastructure and trends for meetings and events. For more than two decades, she has toured convention centers, measured venues, and sampled amenities all over the world so that meeting and event planners can make informed decisions.