UNION CITY, Tenn. (AP) – As a new $80 million Discovery Park of America nears opening day, officials in western Tennessee hope the attraction helps put the area on the tourism map.
Tennessee Tourism Commissioner Susan Whitaker told The Paducah Sun that adding the park will allow the area on the Kentucky-Tennessee state line to become a tourism destination. Whitaker says the area combines history, education and entertainment in one experience.
"It's really a stunning, man-made achievement ... we want people who are handing you their money to be smiling and to know they had a great experience," Whitaker said.
The 50-acre complex includes a main three-story discovery center building with 10 exhibit halls along with outdoor structures including a 100-year-old church, a school house, six full-sized train cars, building replicas, a farm exhibit and an antique windmill.
Additionally, the park features an interior slide, an interactive wind turbine, historic military vehicles, giant replicas of dinosaur skeletons and a 20,000-gallon aquarium. The center also features special attractions including an earthquake simulator, starship theater and 120-foot glass tower.
The project has been in the works for nearly 10 years. The Robert E. & Jenny D. Kirkland Foundation is financing the park and their efforts represent an $80 million investment thus far with the potential to increase to $100 million.
"It's a piece of sculpture and artwork that changes in color, hue or meaning from different perspectives," Robert Kirkland said. "Across the entire U.S. this building itself is a masterpiece."
He emphasized the park as a location that joins the traditional educational aspects associated with museums with fun interactive elements to appeal to every member of a family. Union City represented the optimal place for the park because of its central location between several larger regional cities, a strong workforce, stable educational system and temperate seasonal weather, he said.
The tourism department plans to market the attraction in its annual statewide vacation guide, through tie-ins with other regional destinations, by fostering connections with school and business groups and targeting marketing campaigns through the use of social media platforms, Whitaker said.
Officials said they hope the center will help negate some of the long-term negative economic impacts in the area from the Goodyear tire plant closing in 2011 through an influx of tourism dollars and potential job openings.
CEO Jim Rippy said building the park has taken 600,000 man hours, two-thirds of which were construction.
"This place will have a past, present and future impact for our community and beyond," he said. "We will see the rewards for years to come from our new claim to fame."
The park will have a ribbon-cutting and be open to the public on Nov. 1.
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