Grand Universe planning liftoff in Hamilton County

Grand Universe campus render
The campus’s main facility, seen in both renderings above with a wavy roof, would be the 186,000-square-foot Center for Science & Space Exploration. It would include a 68-foot-diameter 8K digital planetarium and virtual-reality theater that would seat 200 people. (Renderings courtesy of Greg McCauley)

Space, science campus to cost $250M

Science and space exploration are the twin passions of Greg McCauley’s life.

In 1972, when he was 21 years old, McCauley sat in NASA’s Mission Control Center as a member of the Apollo 17 launch team.

It was the last time the United States sent astronauts to the moon.

More than a half-century later, McCauley is looking to share his passions at a 78-acre science and space campus planned between East 186th and East 191st streets in Westfield, just east of Grand Park Sports Campus.

On the site of an empty field, McCauley plans to break ground April 8, 2024, on the $250  million Grand Universe Science & Space Experience Campus. The day is significant. It’s when central Indiana will be in the path of total darkness for a solar eclipse whose path will trace the United States from Texas to Maine. Viewing events are planned throughout the area.

“I was one of those kids that were born during the Russian space race,” McCauley said. “And as it happened with millions of others during those times, I was inspired to pursue a career in engineering because of the space race, and our attempt is to [inspire others], because we need that here.”

The main facility at Grand Universe would be the 186,000-square-foot Center for Science & Space Exploration, just north of East 186th Street.

The center would include 25,000 square feet of space exhibits; a 68-foot-diameter 8K digital planetarium and virtual reality theater called the McCauley Planetarium that would seat 200 people; a fully operational replica of NASA’s Mission Control Center; an observatory with 11 smart telescopes that would have the ability to filter light pollution and provide visitors with a clear view of outer space; and a Mars habitat.

Indianapolis-based JDA Worldwide will design the exhibit space at Grand Universe.

McCauley, who founded the organizations before the project, is working with Salt Lake City-based COSM Experience Center and Indianapolis-based Bowen Technovation to craft what he called “the most magnificent planetarium in the country.” The planetarium’s projection system costs $11 million, he said.

He visited planetariums around the country, including New York’s Hayden Planetarium and the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater at Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, to learn about technology he could bring to Westfield.

“This is brand new technology, and it’s flat-screen technology,” McCauley said. “It’s like taking your high-def 8K or 4K flat screen out of your living room and putting a whole bunch of those together on a 68-foot-diameter dome.”

I was one of those kids that were born during the Russian space race. And as it happened with millions of others during those times, I was inspired to pursue a career in engineering because of the space race, and our attempt is to [inspire others], because we need that here.

Greg McCauley Greg McCauley, Grand Universe Science Space Institute CEO

Grand Universe would also host educational programs, summer camps and after-school programs developed by Purdue University’s Center for Advancing the Teaching and Learning of STEM.

The campus grounds would include scenic ponds and the 225-room Grand Universe Resort Hotel, which would have a conference center, steakhouse and casual restaurant. More facilities might be added later.

McCauley hopes to open Grand Universe in late 2025 before the launch of Artemis 3, which is planned as NASA’s first trip to the moon with astronauts since Apollo 17.

Indianapolis-based architecture firm Fanning Howey is designing Grand Universe. The project developer is Grand Universe Development Partners LLC, which McCauley and his partners founded earlier this year.

Currently, Grand Universe leadership is eyeing several funding streams to pay for the project. McCauley said the for-profit development company Grand Universe Development Partners LLC has full access to $250 million that it has identified through lines of credit, grants and equity partners.

Grand Universe also plans to sell naming rights for some areas of the complex.

A not-for-profit arm, Grand Universe Science Space Institute, which would be the tenant of the Center for Science & Space Exploration, has just started a fundraising campaign, aiming for $30 million in donations by the time the campus opens. It has a $1 million start toward that goal, McCauley said. Donations will help fund educational programming and exhibits.

He added that Grand Universe is searching for a vice president of development to lead the not-for-profit’s fundraising efforts.

McCauley is CEO of the Grand Universe Science Space Institute and a partner with Grand Universe Development Partners LLC, which is led by CEO Arden Johnson.

McCauley said the campus would likely operate 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. The observatory would welcome guests from 9 p.m. to midnight.

From 2012 to 2018, McCauley operated the Link Observatory Space Science Institute near Martinsville, where people learned about the universe and took turns looking through the historic observatory’s telescope.

He had a larger vision for a center for science and space exploration and found a spot in Westfield, his home of 25 years.

“When I met with [Mayor] Andy Cook here in Westfield, he said, ‘Welcome home. I’ve got the perfect place for you,’” McCauley said.

In 2019, McCauley teamed with Birch Dalton, managing director of Westfield-based EdgeRock Development LLC, for a plan to build Grand Universe. Along with the science space center, plans called for a laser tag venue, jump park, meeting space, bowling alley, indoor/outdoor go-kart track and driving school.

While the Westfield City Council approved the plan, McCauley said the pandemic killed the endeavor before it began. Now, McCauley is ready to get a revamped version of the project off the ground.

“It’s been 11 years in the making,” McCauley said. “We’re an overnight success after 11 years.”

McCauley plans to have an audience for Grand Universe’s groundbreaking ceremony in April when the city expects 25,000 people to travel to Westfield to view the solar eclipse. It has been 819 years since Indiana had a total solar eclipse; the next one won’t happen until 2153.

Westfield will sell tickets for $100 per standard-size vehicle to people who want to experience the eclipse at Grand Park. Overnight RV and camper parking will be available for $400 from April 7-9.

McCauley anticipates Grand Universe will attract visitors from Grand Park who are in town for sports tournaments and other events, such as the Indianapolis Colts’ training camp.

Westfield Chamber of Commerce Chair Steve Rupp said Westfield needs venues like Grand Universe to attract people to the city. Too often, he said, people visit Grand Park for a youth sporting event and then travel to Indianapolis, Carmel, Fishers or Noblesville for entertainment, restaurants and lodging.

Westfield Chamber of Commerce Chair Steve Rupp

“We need more businesses, destinations, entertainment venues like this in order to attract more people to stay in Westfield,” Rupp said.

And Hamilton County Tourism CEO Brenda Myers said more places like Grand Universe would be good for the entire county.

“Anything we can do to expand and try to drive that calendar year-round is great for everybody in the community,” Myers said.

Hamilton County Tourism CEO Brenda Myers

As for McCauley, he is focused on getting Grand Universe one giant leap closer to reality.

“People love this stuff, and we’re going back to the moon,” McCauley said. “I believe that will usher in a whole new era of science and technology, and Grand Universe will be the gateway to all of that.”

Source: Indianapolis Business Journal (IBJ)

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