New hospital, dinosaur park expected to open next year in Derby

A visitor at Field Station: Dinosaurs in New Jersey looks at an animatronic model in the prehistoric-themed park.
A visitor at Field Station: Dinosaurs in New Jersey looks at an animatronic model in the prehistoric-themed park. Courtesy photo

The dinosaurs are steps closer to coming to Derby.

The sale of revenue bonds that will help finance a development project for an outdoor prehistoric/paleontology-themed park, along with retail sites and health care facilities, in north Derby is expected to close by March 1, according to developer Rick Worner.

That will clear the way for construction crews to move in during the next few months to build Field Station: Dinosaurs and the Rock Regional Hospital that will be the main tenants of a new 49-acre development north of 63rd Street, on the west side of North Rock Road.

“I would very much like to open for the 2018 season,” said Guy Gsell, the dino park’s executive producer, “maybe as early as Memorial Day but no later than the Fourth of July.”

Gsell opened a similar park in New Jersey in 2012 that eventually moved to another site temporarily to make way for a school. The New Jersey park will open its new permanent location in 2018, as well.

Rock Regional Hospital, which will be run by Texas-based Candor Healthcare, is expected to open in fall 2018, according to Mike Belew, executive vice president of development for CBC Real Estate Group. The $40 million, two-story hospital will be north of the dino park and is expected to provide general acute care services through surgical suites, an emergency department, an intensive care unit and even a cath lab.

A project within a district

The 49-acre development will cost about $159 million, with $135 million coming from private investors and $24 million from the sales tax tevenue, or STAR, bond.

Sales tax revenue generated within a certain tax district is used to pay off the bond, as a sort of reinvestment into the community. The sales tax district can include a larger portion of land than just the development being financed with the bond. That’s the case in Derby, said City Manager Kathy Sexton.

Derby’s STAR bond district encompasses a 233-acre area that runs farther south of 63rd Street South along Rock Road to Meadowlark Road. Most of the district is west of Rock, but it does jump across Rock Road to the retail district east of Rock that includes the Dillons Marketplace and Target.

Other expected tenants of the 49-acre STAR bond project include a hotel where park visitors and medical patients and their families can stay, a restaurant and other retailers. Original plans called for a day care, but that likely won’t happen, said Worner, the Kansas City-based developer. Once the bond sale closes, more tenant agreements will be finalized and announcements will be made, he said.

Sexton said the city’s agreement with the developer calls for a restaurant unique to the area.

“It won’t be another Applebee’s,” she said.

A destination site

City officials expect Field Station: Dinosaurs, which will take up 14 acres in the new development, will be a destination draw much like the city’s Rock River Rapids aquatics park, Sexton said.

Sexton, who became city manager 11 years ago, asks non-Derby residents if they’ve ever been to the city and what brought them. In many cases, the answer has been to spend the day at the aquatics park, which opened in 2004.

“It shows that it’s not only a nice amenity for Derby residents but also for people who come to Derby,” she said. The dino park has the potential to draw not only families but also school groups, she said.

Working with local teachers and Kansas paleontologists, Gsell and his staff will make the park’s experiences not only fun and entertaining but also educational. For example, during peak season, the park will schedule “Superstars in Science” to showcase modern-day scientists.

“We want it to look like a scientific expedition,” said Gsell as he explained how kids will dig for fossils, walk past life-size animatronic dinosaur models and take part in activities, like films, inside a field tent. He’s also exploring setting up a yurt.

“I want people to feel like they are in the wild, where people can get lost … and get ready for an adventure.”

The fact that Kansas was a big sea during the dinosaur age is making it a bit trickier to develop a more regional display. “But I have clever people – good paleontologists and good designers – working on that,” Gsell said.

Other activities include a dinosaur-themed, 18-hole miniature golf course, inspired by all seven continents where the remains of the prehistoric animals have been found; a domed ropes course, one of the first in the U.S, geared for kids ages 4 to 11; and a fitness trail.

“Science isn’t just about working in a lab but also being in the field. You need to be fit,” Gsell said.

Ticket prices are expected to run similar to those Gsell charges at the current New Jersey park, around $15 to $17.50, with specials and group rates, as well as season tickets. The park will likely have expanded peak season hours and limited off-season hours.

More health care options

There’s a growing need for more health care options that will serve not only Derby but other communities, said Belew, who’s involved in the development of the 30-bed Rock Regional Hospital.

“The demographics of Derby are compelling, and from a health care perspective from south of Kellogg (in Wichita) to Wellington, there’s a significant need for inpatient and outpatient facilities,” Belew said.

In fact, since originally announcing the hospital in July, the developers increased the hospital’s square footage from 65,000 to 90,000 to account for future growth.

Plans call for the hospital to have 12 inpatient medical beds, 12 surgical beds and six intensive care unit beds, along with three operating rooms, two procedure rooms, three cath lab rooms and three emergency department rooms.

The plans also call for adjacent medical office buildings.