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Groundbreaking on Grand Sky project represents years of preparation

Construction is underway at the site of the nations first unmanned aircraft business park on Wednesday, Sept 9, 2015, at Grand Forks Air Force Base in Grand Forks, N.D. (Logan Werlinger/Grand Forks Herald)1 / 2
Tom Swoyer, President of Grand Sky Development Company, explains the site of the nations first unmanned aircraft business park on Wednesday, Sept 9, 2015, at Grand Forks Air Force Base in Grand Forks, N.D. (Logan Werlinger/Grand Forks Herald)2 / 2

Behind a mound of prairie dirt piled high Wednesday lies a glimpse into the future of the unmanned aircraft systems industry in Grand Forks County.

The dirt will be spread and primed for shovels wielded by people whose work in the last few years will cumulate in the official groundbreaking today for Grand Sky, the country's first business park focusing on UAS technology.

It's a day that Tom Swoyer Jr. has long awaited. Swoyer is president of Grand Sky Development Co., the firm heading construction of the $300 million project located adjacent to Grand Forks Air Force Base.

"Tomorrow is really a celebration about success," Swoyer told the Herald on Wednesday. "It took a lot of years to get to the point in February where the lease was signed that allows all this to happen."

The land for the project is rented from the base by Grand Forks County, which in turn subleases it to Grand Sky Development.

Around Swoyer, a reception area for ceremony guests was being put together, while construction crews continue their work behind the dirt pile that sits on large expanse of concrete poured 2-feet thick.

Beyond the fence that encloses the pad, more crews are marking roads that will wind through the acres of vacant land to the west of the concrete pad. Trenches for utilities are expected to be dug in the next few weeks.

At the same time, the original fence will be removed and a new fence will be installed to form a security perimeter for Grand Sky, meaning the park will no longer have to rely on base personnel for security.

Ceremony guests will test the park's independent security gate as they arrive this morning, Swoyer said.

From their seats, guests will only see a fraction of the park, which in total encompasses 217 acres and will house 1.2 million square feet of space for offices, hangars and data centers.

Swoyer refers to the open land around the concrete pad as "beachfront property" since it will be home to hangars with a direct connection from the pad to the base's runway.

Northrop Grumman, the park's first anchor tenant, has already staked its claim along the concrete pad's south end. The company expects to start construction on its facility in October, Swoyer said.

So far, every company that has visited the site in person has signed a lease, he added.

"That really is the magic that happens," Swoyer said. "People start seeing the possibilities of what could be and what you can do out here."