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World’s largest moving dinosaurs could come to life in Derby

Field Station: Dinosaurs introduction

A company called Field Station: Dinosaurs – branded as having the world’s largest moving dinosaur models – wants to replicate its East Coast dinosaur park on the north side of Derby, Kansas. Here, the company introduces you to its existing park.
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A company called Field Station: Dinosaurs – branded as having the world’s largest moving dinosaur models – wants to replicate its East Coast dinosaur park on the north side of Derby, Kansas. Here, the company introduces you to its existing park.

By 2018, there could be a dinosaur adventure park in Derby, according to the developer, if it wins approval from the state and the Derby City Council, which votes on the issue later this month.

A company called Field Station: Dinosaurs – branded as having the world’s largest moving dinosaur models – wants to replicate its East Coast dinosaur park on the north side of Derby.

The $39 million park would include life-size animatronic dinosaurs, a three-dimensional theater, dig site, zip line, ropes course, miniature golf, an interactive paleontology lab and overnight sites for “glamping.”

The $39 million park would include life-size animatronic dinosaurs, a three-dimensional theater, dig site, zip line, ropes course, miniature golf, an interactive paleontology lab and overnight sites for “glamping” – short for glamorous camping.

The project would be part of a $24 million Derby Sales Tax Revenue Bond, or STAR bond, which captures additional sales tax generated within a defined district to pay off the bonds.

Examples of Wichita STAR bond projects include the Keeper of the Plains district and improvements to the K-96 interchange with Greenwich Place, where Wichita Sports Forum now sits.

The Derby STAR bond project also includes a $40 million project for Rock Regional Hospital, a hotel, daycare center and other restaurants and retail stores.

The projected improvements total an estimated $159 million – $135 million from private investments and $24 million from the STAR bond.

The Derby City Council is expected to vote on the bond at its July 26 meeting. The Kansas Department of Commerce then needs to approve it before the bond is issued.

Kathy Sexton, Derby city manager, said she plans to recommend the council approve the bond project.

She pointed to Derby’s family focus, the park’s potential for school field trips and the entertainment draw for Wichita.

“Sometimes in tourism, you’re not just trying to get people to come for that one thing, you’re trying to get them to stay in town for one more day,” she said.

Over Labor Day weekend last year, Sexton said, she, the mayor and two city council members visited the New Jersey dinosaur park.

She said guides and actors positioned around the park lead sing-along songs and hands-on activities.

“The kids were having fun and using different senses in this interactive-type learning,” Sexton said. “It’s really something new and different than what people around here are used to.”

It’s really something new and different than what people around here are used to.

Kathy Sexton, Derby city manager

Mayor Randy White said he would keep an open mind and said he valued concerns from some residents who don’t like the idea.

But, he said, “like it or not, growth creates revenue. All indications are that it would be financially profitable for the city.”

About the park

Guy Gsell, executive producer of Field Station: Dinosaurs, said he created the New Jersey dinosaur park after working as director of Discovery Times Square – an interactive Discovery Network museum in New York City.

Gsell said Discovery Times Square hosted traveling dinosaur exhibits, but was limited by space – not all dinosaurs could fit in the exhibition hall.

That’s when he decided to create a permanent outdoor exhibit with true-to-size replications. Dinosaurs in most traveling exhibits, he said, are two-thirds the size of the actual animal.

That’s really he thrill of it. When you see how big these dinosaurs actually were, it’s pretty amazing.

Guy Gsell, executive producer of Field Station: Dinosaurs

“That’s really the thrill of it,” he said. “When you see how big these dinosaurs actually were, it’s pretty amazing.”

To develop the dinosaur park, Gsell said he worked with the New Jersey State Museum and paleontologists to create an “edutainment” curriculum, short for educational entertainment, that complements school lessons.

The park opened in 2012 and moved to a temporary location in 2015 because a high school is being built in the former location. Gsell said the permanent location in New Jersey will open in 2018.

He said other developers have contacted him with interest in replicating the park in places around the Washington D.C.-area and upstate New York.

At this point, he said, conversations have advanced with the possibility of an upstate New York location, but much like Derby, nothing is finalized yet.

The New Jersey site theme is broad – dinosaurs. But Gsell said Derby’s site would feature an overall theme of “American Dinosaurs” with an emphasis on “the shores of the western inland seaway” – including dinosaurs discovered in Kansas and surrounding states.

The park’s atmosphere aims to give park-goers the feeling of being on an expedition, so all buildings are made of tents and most of the activities are outdoors.

A company called Field Station: Dinosaurs – branded as having the world’s largest moving dinosaur models – wants to replicate its East Coast dinosaur park on the north side of Derby, Kansas. Here, the company introduces you to its existing park.

Gsell said prices would likely include options for individual attractions and combination tickets. New Jersey’s general park admission tickets cost $15 and $20 for the park and 3-D movie. A $40 pass in New Jersey offers park and movie admission, along with access to the paleontologist lab and a fossil dig where participants take home real fossils. Season passes cost $60 for adults and children.

But the New Jersey park doesn’t have miniature golf or a ropes course.

The “glamping,” sites are just an idea, but Gsell said glamping would likely have a dynamic pricing system, much like a hotel. He said glamping tents would have similar contents as a hotel room, but bathrooms would be shared, like a campsite. He said glamping would include exclusive evening activities for glamping campers, if the bond passes.

Gsell said he financed the New Jersey park from individual private funders, without bank loans, and he said he plans to do the same in Kansas.

The target market for Field Station: Dinosaurs is families with children between the ages of 3 and 11. Programming would serve students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, summer camp groups, school groups and daycare centers.

The larger project

Rick Worner, managing director of National Realty Advisors in Overland Park, has been the main visionary behind the Derby STAR bond district.

The developer said he traveled around the country for the past 10 years, visiting a half dozen dinosaur parks, in search of unique tourism venues for Kansas.

He worked to develop Wichita’s K-96 STAR bond project before turning to Derby when Steve Barrett, a commercial real estate broker at JP Weigand, advised him the city had investment potential. When the two went to lunch, he said, Worner talked with residents about Derby’s reputation.

“Everybody we talked to talked about baseball and the water park and how Derby is about family, family, family,” he said. “And that sold me that it was the right city and the right site.”

Worner said for the past 10 years, he has traveled around the country in search of unique tourism venues for Kansas. He says he’s visited a half-dozen dinosaur parks.

But he said Gsell’s park “was different than any other dinosaur park I’ve been to.”

“It’s not just a static dinosaur display.”

Gabriella Dunn: 316-268-6400, @gabriella_dunn

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