Tribal leaders and private businesses are developing a $170million entertainment complex just east of Scottsdale, introducing more competition for tourist dollars as the post- recession economy progresses.
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The developer and investors behind Odysea in the Desert hope to distinguish it by providing what they say will be North America's largest butterfly pavilion, an aquarium exhibit, a Ripley's Believe It or Not museum and other attractions.
The project will add to an emerging entertainment corridor along Loop 101 on the Salt River Reservation that already includes the Talking Stick Resort and Casino, two adjacent golf courses, and the Salt River Fields spring-training baseball complex.
Still, the complex faces competition from other Valley attractions, including an aquarium in Tempe, several Valley locations that feature exotic-animal attractions, and relatively new regional entertainment and shopping centers in Glendale, Tempe and Phoenix.
Despite that, tourism officials say an attraction with multiple offerings, located close to Scottsdale and its many resorts, can only enhance the Valley's reputation as a prime tourism destination, creating the potential for attracting more tourism dollars.
"Anything that brings tourists or attracts visitors to our state is just going to help our economy," said Kiva Couchon, the Arizona Office of Tourism's director of communications. "Anything unique and different that we can offer is going to enhance that visitor experience and is going to work to our advantage. We don't see competition, just another option for visitors to enjoy."
Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community officials say the project is not seen as just a single enterprise, but part of a larger plan.
"Our approach is to create synergy and uniqueness in offering our guests and their families a variety of experiences unmatched anywhere,'' said Diane Enos, president of the tribal community. "We are stimulating the economy with jobs and opportunities for spin-off development to match what is already there.''
The butterfly pavilion is the first phase of the 35-acre entertainment complex at the northeastern corner of Loop 101 and Via De Ventura.
"We've been working for quite some time to be able to negotiate and obtain a 65-year ground lease from the landowner and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community," said Amram Knishinsky, principal partner and developer of Butterfly Wonderland.
The project is being funded by the developer and a group of private investors, Knishinsky said. The other principals are Northern Gateway LLC, Martin Pollack and Rubin Stahl.
Butterfly Wonderland, which will encompass 5 acres, is scheduled to open in spring 2013. The overall project includes four phases totaling 522,000 square feet.
"We traveled across the country and have seen all of the other displays that are available, and then we came home and designed it on steroids, which means bigger and including more subjects than anybody else has done in the past," Knishinsky said. "It will be a two-hour visit that will both entertain and educate you."
It will be populated with butterflies from the rainforests of the world, including Costa Rica, Brazil, Africa and the Philippines, he said. Most of the marine life, such as piranhas and gars, will come from the Amazon, he said.
Though on a smaller scale, Phoenix's Desert Botanical Garden features biannual butterfly exhibits. Its Mariposa Monarca: Monarch Butterfly Exhibit opens in late September and continues through late November. In the spring, its North American butterflies exhibit opens in early March and continues through Mother's Day.
"It's a screened-in structure, so there's plants and food in there for the butterflies, and visitors can walk right in there," said John Sallot, the Botanical Garden's director of marketing. "Sometimes butterflies land right on you."
The Renaissance Cos. is handling construction of Butterfly Wonderland, while the design group is Robert Brown of Montgomery Design Group and Brissette Architects. They are all Scottsdale firms.
David Tilson, vice president of the Renaissance Cos., said building an enclosed environment with a rainforest in the desert presents a challenge. Cincinnati-based Rough Bros. will be involved in the design of the complex, he said.
"They do a lot of greenhouses, places where environments are important," he said.
Penguins in next phase
The second phase will be Odysea Aquarium, a freshwater and saltwater aquarium attraction on 12acres. It will include shark tanks with walk-through tunnels, a king-penguin exhibit, an underwater theater and a display of the Great Barrier Reef.
"The Odysea Aquarium and additional restaurant and retail will take 24months to build and we're looking at opening in 2015," Knishinsky said. "That would only be the second phase."
Sea Life Arizona, at Tempe's Arizona Mills Mall, features more than 5,000 sea creatures in 30 displays. In Litchfield Park, Wildlife World Zoo & Aquarium includes more than 6,000 exotic animals. The Phoenix Zoo remains a major attraction.
The third and fourth phases of Odysea will include a Ripley's Believe It or Not museum and an IMAX theater.
The prospect of having varied attractions located on one site close to Scottsdale is being well-received by city tourism officials.
Rachel Pearson, vice president of community and government affairs for the Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the variety of elements in the complex will drive visitors not only there, but also to Scottsdale.
"It will bring something new to the area just because what is incorporated into the plans are things we don't have," she said.
By Edward Gately, The Republic|azcentral.com Sept 2, 2012
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