Dinosaur-themed attraction proposed for Derby

Guy Gsell wants to bring a dinosaur-themed attraction to Derby.
Guy Gsell wants to bring a dinosaur-themed attraction to Derby. The Wichita Eagle

Guy Gsell likes dinosaurs. So much so that he arrived in Kansas on Thursday sporting a dinosaur tie and T. rex printed socks.

So much so that he wants to bring his love for the extinct creatures to Derby in the form of a dinosaur-themed destination attraction.

Gsell is the executive producer of New Jersey-based Field Station: Dinosaurs and is proposing to create a similar development at the north end of Derby on the west side of Rock Road. The park would include life-size animatronic dinosaurs, a three-dimensional theater, a fossil dig site and other attractions.

“I call it edutainment,” Gsell said at a special Derby City Council meeting Thursday. “Education and entertainment.

“Spark their imagination, get them interested in science. We want it to be like Indiana Jones.”

The $39 million project would be funded through STAR bonds, which capture excess sales tax generated by businesses within a district to pay off the bonds. Field Station: Dinosaurs proposed the district boundaries, which include businesses expected to profit from the increased tourism.

The Derby City Council passed a motion 8-0 for a public hearing on Aug. 25 to discuss establishing a STAR bond district. The proposal calls for a spring 2017 opening.

The New Jersey operation drew visitors from 48 states, Gsell said. He and council members hope the Derby site will drive a similar level of out-of-state tourism. It is also expected to create approximately 90 jobs.

The idea to bring the project to Kansas began when Rick Worner, a Kansas developer and managing director of National Realty Advisors, met Gsell at a conference in Orlando, Fla. Worner, a longtime lover of dinosaurs himself, pitched the idea to Gsell and a plan emerged.

Visitors to Field Station: Dinosaurs are mostly families with children ages 3 to 11, though the site also offers school programs for children through eighth grade. More than 20,000 students visited the New Jersey site last year, Gsell said.

Children can dig for fossils, touch asteroids and see dinosaur skulls.

“There’s no glass,” Gsell said. “No rope to stand behind.”

The Derby location would offer a few features the New Jersey site lacks. The center would be open year-round and include a museum dedicated to the geological and Mesozoic history of Kansas and life in the age of the dinosaurs. Gsell also has proposed a dinosaur footprint gallery and an 18-hole miniature golf course built to look like a paleontological dig site.

Lastly, Gsell hopes to construct a tri-level ropes course housed in a dome. It would be the first in North America, he said. The only other one opened last fall in London.

Gsell said the Derby location would offer the popular “Dozin’ with Dinos” program – a one-night stay on site – but he also plans to run a National Dinosaur Camp. He compared it to space camp, providing students with a weeklong, immersive science program.

Reach Kelly Meyerhofer at 316-268-6357 or kmeyerhofer@wichitaeagle.com.