By MATTHEW HUISMAN
To describe the new EarthQuest development planned for U.S. Highway 59 as solely an amusement park or a dinosaur museum would be wrong.
The 1,600-acre plot of land bisected by U.S. 59 initially began as a 50-acre research facility and museum. It has since ballooned from its initial conception to become an estimated $1.5 billion destination resort filled with an amusement park and hotels. “Dino” Don Lessem, a renowned dinosaur paleontologist who reconstructed the world’s largest dinosaur skeleton, is the man behind the idea for the project.
“This is not a theme park to be stripped bare and covered with concrete,” Lessem said in a phone interview last week. “What we want to have is a more active research facility.”
The development is divided by U.S. 59 into two phases: the resort and research institute to the west and the residential development to the east. The western portion is supposed to break ground between the summer and fall of 2009, setting the completion of the project to 2011. The centerpieces of the 550-acre west area are the EarthQuest Institute research facility and EarthQuest Adventures family amusement park. The 125,000-square-foot institute and museum will be an interactive experience for visitors.
“All the details are designed to show how people can live without destroying the environment,” Lessem said. “Would this be done by Disney, this would be driven by commerce. Our brand is nature and we want to celebrate the beauty of the environment.”
Lessem reiterated that the project is not a replacement for Houston’s old Six Flags AstroWorld that closed its doors in 2005, but a completely new entertainment experience.
Also planned for EarthQuest’s western development are three hotel sites, a zoo, ropes course, retail entertainment zone and treehouse lodging. The retail and entertainment zone is said to be similar to the Universal Studios City Walk in Los Angeles with retail shopping, dining and live music.
To the east of U.S. 59 is a residential community that will have about 1,500 single family homes, according to the developer John Marlin of Marlin-Atlantis, the company that owns the 1,600 acres for the proposed site. The homes and the institute will work hand-in-hand by allowing researchers and scientists to implement green technology directly into the homes. This will give researchers a testing ground in their own back yard to see if new implementations are effective. According to an interview with Marlin, he said the home sites will be a 15- to 20-year project.
The Marlin-Atlantis team is finalizing their plans as well with regards to the for-profit part of EarthQuest.
“We’ve never done a project like this,” Marlin said. “Things are going very well and we are on schedule.”