On an overcast Monday morning, Sundt Construction crew members installed large 40-foot concrete walls into place for the Port San Antonio innovation center. Port San Antonio CEO Jim Perschbach confirmed the new facility would open by February or March of 2022.
Port San Antonio board members committed $60 million in August 2020 to build a state-of-the-art facility that will connect people with employment, educational, and entrepreneurial opportunities.
The 130,000 square-foot innovation center will be a multi-purpose building with a 2,500-seat state-of-the-art technology arena capable of flexible configurations for hosting esports (competitive multiplayer video gaming) competitions, concerts, product launches, large training programs, and conferences. The expanded home for the San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology (SAMSAT) will house a vast STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) collection and host educational programs focused on connecting past discoveries with current technologies.
A research and development (R&D) lab with specialized prototyping and fabrication equipment will support STEM-driven startups. Classrooms and meeting spaces will be available for educational programs, smaller industry meetings, and collaborative gatherings. The space will also have a full-scale food hall, including catering support for the various events hosted at the center.
In keeping with the Port’s economic development mandate, the board also decided to allocate 100% of the innovation center’s excess revenue (after expenses) to support technology-focused K-12, college-level, and professional development programs.
The planned maker space, esports arena, and home for SAMSAT will help connect San Antonio’s community with educators and technology employers for more workforce development opportunities, Perschbach said. The center’s R&D lab will help startups working in robotics, cybersecurity applications, drones, and other “deep tech” advances to create and showcase products in a demo area.
Port vice president for cybersecurity business development Will Garett said this center is “a one of a kind facility not seen across the nation. We’ll have these capabilities coupled with the innovation showroom that will act as a tech transfer space where DOD [Department of Defense] and other system integrators can interact and connect.”
Perschbach pointed to the first walls going up around what will be the tech arena portion of the center. He said adding an esports arena that can accommodate STEM educational activities such as drone races and cybersecurity gaming competitions will help place San Antonio on the map for science- and technology-driven innovation.
“We’re working on two issues,” Perschbach said. “The museum and educational areas of the new center will help show how education fits with what we’re doing. We’re also designing and scheduling events for the center that are both educational and entertaining.”
Esports has become an exploding trend that is shaping the future of gaming and digital media. With the growth in games as a service, cross-screen entertainment, creator and live streaming tools, video-based communities, and more, e-gaming has become much more than a place to host video games.
Sam Elizondo, founder of the Esports in Education Foundation, watched the construction as he talked about how hosting events will help bring together vendors, employers looking for digital gaming creatives, and the community of talented people with much-needed specialized skills.
“Every subject taught in school is in some way is expressed in sports and gaming,” he said. “It’s expensive to host esports and gaming events at our Convention Center because you need to pay extra for all that connectivity. This arena is perfect for these exciting tech events and is a great way to get kids connected.”
With many organizations taking a cautious approach during the pandemic, Port board member Juan Solis credits the board for taking action during a year marked by the impacts from COVID-19 on our economy.
“You need to have a progressive board with an entrepreneurial spirit that understands risk is a necessary component of decision-making,” Solis said.
The featured image is of concrete walls for Port San Antonio’s forthcoming innovation center getting installed. Photo credit: Port San Antonio.