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In an undated photo, soldiers with Bravo Battery, 3rd Battallion, 29th Field Artillery fire a salute during a change of command ceremony at Founders Field on Fort Carson. (Mark Reis, Special to The Colorado Sun)

The military is the third largest economic driver in Colorado, and Gov. Jared Polis wants to make it even more prominent.

The Democrat is trumpeting an effort to lure the National Medal of Honor Museum to Denver, offering state land near the Capitol as a location, and working with Colorado’s congressional delegation to land the headquarters of the new U.S. Space Command.

“Let’s do these great projects that honor our military legacy,” Polis told an organization of business leaders at a recent event.

The National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation named Denver as one of five possible cities — along with Washington, New York, Dallas and San Diego, according to a report — for the project and hopes to announce its pick by the end of the year. The museum will showcase what the Medal of Honor — the nation’s highest military decoration — represents and tell the stories of its recipients.

Polis said the museum would be “an iconic get for Colorado” and pointed to Pueblo as the home of the most Medal of Honor recipients per capita in the nation.

“We are proud of our military heritage here in Colorado and this is a way to carry that forward — and also be yet another downtown tourist attraction with a design of architectural merit,” Polis said.

The foundation is raising $100 million to get the project started, retaining architect Moshe Safdie as well as the exhibit designer for the National World War II Museum to guide the work.

The governor said he identified property near the Capitol for the project that currently houses a parking lot. The governor’s office would not provide more details, but the most likely location is state property at the northeast corner of East Colfax Avenue and Lincoln Street next to state offices.

The parking lot at Lincoln Street and East Colfax Avenue that Gov. Jared Polis envisions for a Medal of Honor museum. The area was photographed on June 7, 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

In addition, Polis is supporting the building of the Colorado Fallen Heroes Memorial on the west side of the state Capitol, suggesting they are complementary. He plans to headline a fundraiser to raise money for the project this fall. The memorial, approved in 2007, will honor Coloradans killed in World War I through the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“This is important to those serving today, but also for attracting military history buff tourism from across the country to have a Colorado experience,” he said.

In Colorado, the defense industry had an estimated economic impact of $27 billion in 2015, and a subsequent state report calculated military sector employment at 247,000.

The existing civil war memorial outside the Colorado Capitol, photographed on June 7, 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Polis hopes to grow that footprint with the addition of U.S. Space Command. Four of the six finalists for the location are located in Colorado.

The Colorado Springs area, which is home to three of the sites, is the front-runner over Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Polis said, but he added that his administration is supportive of both cities landing the command center.

U.S. Space Command is President Donald Trump’s idea for making the nation the superior fighting force beyond Earth’s atmosphere. It will be housed under the auspices of the Air Force and focus on things like protecting America’s satellites and missile defense.

Colorado’s congressional delegation is split on where the command should be housed. U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, D-Aurora, is pushing his district and Buckley as the best possible location. U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, is lobbying hard for the new military enterprise to be in El Paso County.

In an undated photo, members of Fort Carson’s 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment salute during a memorial ceremony on post to remember all Cavalry Troopers killed during the squadron’s history. (Mark Reis, Special to The Colorado Sun)

It appears things are working in Lamborn’s favor. “Establishing Space Command in the Pikes Peak region is the most logical choice, based on virtually every metric the Air Force employs when judging basing criteria,” he said in a written statement.

The state is promising highway improvements to help lure it to the Schriever or Peterson Air Force bases in the Colorado Springs area. Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, just southwest of Colorado Springs’ downtown and currently home to North American Aerospace Defense Command, is also on the short list.

“I am very optimistic that we are very likely the location for Space Command,” Polis said at a recent event.

MORE: Bureau of Land Management more likely to relocate to Denver than Grand Junction, Polis says

The governor also touted one more project with a military component — the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, or CORE Act.

The federal legislation would preserve Camp Hale in the high country, where the 10th Mountain Division World World II veterans trained. Polis encouraged the business leaders at the event to lobby Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner to support the legislation, which is being led by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, both Democrats.

“Let’s do these great projects that honor our military legacy like the Medal of Honor recipients museum and like the CORE Act preserving Camp Hale,” Polis said.

Last week, Gardner introduced Gen. Jay Raymond, the commander of Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base, at a confirmation hearing. In a statement, Gardner said he is working “in Congress to ensure our state is selected as the home for Space Command, BLM headquarters, and a museum recognizing recipients of the Medal of Honor.”

John Frank is a former Colorado Sun staff writer. He left the publication in January 2021.