Field Station: Dinosaurs

Field Station: Dinosaurs, the New Jersey-based dinosaur park and museum that is hoping to operate in Derby, tried and failed in Ames, Iowa about a year and a half ago.

According to Susan Gwiasda, public information officer for the City of Ames, the city’s Council members voted 4-1 to allow the attraction to seek out State incentives to develop in the city, which has a population of more than 60,000.

Rick Worner from Leawood, Kan. worked with Ames staff on getting approval for the $48 million deal. Worner is also working on the attraction in Derby, although he is now working with National Realty Directors instead of Oppenheimer & Co. Inc.

Worner said he was working on other developments in Iowa when he found out about the Iowa Reinvestment District program – Iowa’s version of Kansas’ STAR bonds, which are being used for Field Station: Dinosaurs in Derby.

Worner said they found out about the program only about a month before the application for the program was due, leaving him and Guy Gsell, executive producer of Field Station: Dinosaurs, on a tight schedule to present to city staff in Ames.

According to the City Council action form, the Ames City Council was instructed to vote on the project on the same night they were introduced to it.

In the Manager’s Requested Action section, it states, “This State program and this request … have been fast-tracked so that normal backgrounding was not possible.”

It goes on to say that documentation was not received by Ames staff until Feb. 26 – less than three weeks before the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) deadline for pre-applications.

In the end, the City Manager recommended approval of the project because it would not require any incentives from the City of Ames, but would still encourage development.

But the dinosaur park fell short after applying for state funding through the Iowa Reinvestment District program, which uses hotel, motel and sales tax to invest in unique economic drivers across Iowa.

Ten projects requested funding through the program and only three were selected, Worner said. Because the program was so new, rules were being more defined as the application process went forward, he said, which led to a low score from the State of Iowa.

Field Station: Dinosaurs was scored too low to consider with a score of 52.2 on a 100-point scale. The State requires a score of at least 70.

The scale ranks on uniqueness, economic impact, project feasibility, capital investment, funding leverage, non-retail focus and additional factors such as readiness for development, geographic diversity and funding needed.

But Worner said it wasn’t because of Gsell’s product, but because of what projects the State of Iowa was looking for, namely hotels, he said.

“Nobody said, ‘Hey, we hate dinosaurs,’” Worner said. “It just didn’t meet the criteria as it evolved.”

Derby City Manager Kathy Sexton said the State of Iowa was mostly concerned about the location of the park – near a flood-prone area in Ames.

Overall, Sexton said the Iowa deal was good information, but not indicative of how the park would do in Derby.

“Certainly, from our perspective, it’s useful to know,” she said. “But it’s no catastrophe.”

Field Station: Dinosaurs took its first step toward Derby during the July 16 City Council meeting, where Council members voted to have a public forum regarding the potential STAR bond district on Rock Road.

If a district is set up, businesses would be encouraged to develop near where Field Station: Dinosaurs is built, near the corner of Rock Road and Patriot. The added sales tax revenue from new businesses would go toward the park. No sales tax increases would be necessary, according to Derby officials.

The public forum was set up for 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 25 in City Hall. There, Derby residents are encouraged to voice their opinions about the possibility of bringing Field Station: Dinosaurs to Derby with STAR bonds.

“Ames was kind of a learning experience,” Worner said of the attempted project in Iowa. “Kansas’s law is generally different than Iowa’s.”