Dino park set for summer 2018 opening

Guy Gsell, producer and educator of Field Station: Dinosaurs, says learning will be a vital part of the Derby dinosaur park. In addition, the staff will strive to keep the attraction updated with a variety of demonstrations so that visitors will return often.

Guy Gsell is a busy man these days.

The producer and educator of Field Station: Dinosaurs predicts an opening of the city’s latest attraction sometime next summer, and there’s a lot of work to be done between now and then – including making the giant animatronic beasts and getting them to Kansas from their creation in Zigong, China.

There’s much riding on the project: $18.9 million in STAR bonds, his reputation – and the reputation of the city – and his own money.

Gsell, in a recent interview updating the park’s status, acknowledges that there are still those who say the attraction won’t succeed, but he takes issue with that.

“It will not fall apart,” he said.

That would be different if the park was in the $100-million range and there was no capacity to pay a bank loan back, but it’s not as it’s being financed through STAR bonds. The bonds have been sold and if there is a financial problem, the bond holders and not taxpayers are on the hook.

Gsell’s focus right now is to create the attraction and then to sell it.

There will be more than 50 dinosaurs in Derby, more than the 34 in his New Jersey park. They will be highly diverse in species and size but all are meant to be attention-grabbing – and educational.

One of the challenges Gsell now faces is getting the dinosaurs made correctly.

The company doing it, Jade Bamboo company, where a lot of life-sized dinosaurs are made, is artistic-oriented, not necessarily science-oriented, so there will need to be a lot of oversight in the process, he said.

Also, Gsell likened the process to building an airplane, wherein parts come from a wide variety of sources, including companies in Germany and the United States for specialized parts, such as the robotic functions and the audio systems.

The dinosaurs will be placed in shipping containers and likely come into the port of Houston and be trucked or shipped by rail to Derby where they will be assembled.

Children fascinated with dinosaurs

When the park does open, a major audience, of course, will be children, who are fascinated by them.

That’s because as they get older, so many things they believed in, such as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, are “taken away,” but the dinosaurs never are, Gsell said.

“They were big and crazy and seemed like something out of science fiction,” he said. “But they were real. They were here.”

Children, he said, have a shaky sense of time, but a great sense of place, and they realize that dinosaurs, at one time, walked on Earth and that has a magnetic pull for kids.

All the Derby dinosaurs will move.

“That’s what’s exciting for the kids,” he said, “to see them roaring and breathing and moving.”

The display is boring if the dinosaurs don’t move, Gsell said, but making them move does make them expensive. He couldn’t say how much the dinosaurs are costing because of a clause in the contract preventing him from doing so.

Gsell, who has years of experience in theater production work, realizes the need to keep things fresh. In that regard, the park will be updating and changing its shows so that people will want to come back on a regular basis.

In addition, he and others will work to market it on a larger scale and include it among a variety of attractions in the greater Wichita area.

“We’re thinking of being a part of a community of attractions. We don’t want people to just visit Field Station: Dinosaurs. We want them to go to Rock River Rapids and visit places in Wichita.”

Serious discussions about the Derby dinosaur park have been going on for several years. It’s been a bit more than nine months since it was approved by the City Council.

In that time, the bonds have been approved and sold and soon the infrastructure will go in place for it and related commercial development.

While the journey has been long and there’s more to go, Gsell is confident of the progress and opening the attraction’s gates.

“I feel good about it,” he said.