If you are a Kingwood resident who always makes a left-hand turn onto Highway 59 South when looking for entertainment venues and great shopping – that may be changing in the not too distant future. In a couple of years with the opening of EarthQuest, you will find that East Montgomery County, specifically the New Caney area will be exploding with new options.
What is EarthQuest? Well it will be much more than just a dinosaur museum or themed amusement park. It is a massive project encompassing a variety of entertainment venues including both gated and free entry areas, retail stores, an outlet mall, a multitude of dining options, hotel facilities, convention center, corporate office space, research facility, and “green” single and multi-family homes. Oh yes, did I mention the zoo?
If you were one of the lucky few who attended the East Montgomery County Improvement District’s (EMCID) Open House on December 8, 2008, you saw a 3D representation of the designer’s vision. I sat down with Mr. Frank McCrady, CEO of EMCID to talk about this behemoth project and get the current status on how plans are proceeding.
As revealed in previous articles, the EarthQuest Project will be divided in two parts, both geographically and financially. EarthQuest Ventures will be the for profit entity operating the theme park and assorted entertainment venues. EarthQuest Institute is the non-profit entity overseeing the museum and various education components operating in conjunction with the “green” vision of this endeavor. Geographically, The EarthQuest Resort will be located off of highway 59 between FM 1485 and FM 282 on the west side and FM 1485 and Roman Forest Blvd on the east side in New Caney, Texas.
Let’s take a visual tour of the layout for EarthQuest. Starting on the far west side inside the gated EarthQuest theme park, there will be a zoo where visitors will be able to ride through and observe animals in a natural habitat setting. Keeping with the “green” theme, you will not be driving through this area in your SUV but riding a train like passenger vehicle boasting energy efficiency instead.
As we move east you will come to the center point of the theme park; a massive mountain structure which will feature three very distinctive environments. One side of the mountain will focus on the artic / ice element, the second will focus on volcanic / heat element and the third will feature a rainforest aspect. Each side of this mountain will contain a roller coaster type ride thematically appropriate for the element.
Surrounding this gigantic mountain there will be individual “worlds” which focus on the four basic elements – Earth, Water, Fire and Air.
Each world will include themed rides and educational attractions which both entertain and educate park visitors. Here is where the Disney comparison comes in. EarthQuest should not be thought of as a place you visit for “distraction”, but as precisely the opposite. People will visit EarthQuest for entertainment “attractions” and the educational element that will be infused.
Do you remember visiting Epcot Center or Animal Kingdom at Disney World? Although you were having fun and the kids were entertained, everyone was also learning something new. That’s the idea here, except that at EarthQuest you are learning about our planet, both its past dating back to the dinosaur age, and its future focusing on how “green” technologies and conservation must be a factor.
Ok, now let’s move outside the gated area for some food. Oh yes, there will be food inside the gated area, but lots more variety available in an area featuring restaurants and nightclubs outside the theme park itself. Here again, I see a parallel to the Downtown Disney area where someone may just go for a great night out without ever entering the park itself. The area will certainly be a draw for a visitor looking for theatre options and live music or comedy.
The EarthQuest Institute will be our next stop. This area features the much discussed dinosaur museum. Since “Dino” Don Lessem, world renowned dinosaur paleontologist is the principle driving individual behind this part of the development, you can be sure no corners will be cut. Dr. Lessem is the creator of some of the world’s largest and most popular natural science exhibits, and is also the co-founder of the two largest foundations for paleontology: The Dinosaur Society, and the more recent Jurassic Foundation, raising millions of dollars for international science research. The EarthQuest Institute will also house research facilities where “green” technologies will be developed, tested and introduced.
Located next to the EarthQuest Institute Museum will be a hotel and convention center, but don’t think of it as your classic box like convention center. This hotel will be appropriately themed similar to the Wilderness Lodge Resort at Disney or the Jasper Park Lodge in Alberta, Canada. There will be an emphasis on a “green” partnership program which seeks to minimize the hotel’s impact on the planet.
Located on the north side of the EarthQuest closer to highway 242 will be a water park. This will be a gated venue, but will have a separate entry ticket, so a family may choose to visit just this attraction on a day trip. More details are still to come on this part of the entertainment complex. There will also be a non-gated area similar to the Mountasia Family Fun Center which will include Laser Tag, rock climbing wall, miniature golf courses, go karts, bumper boats and an arcade.
Did I mention the 4000 car parking garage? There will be a main parking facility which will allow a central parking location where you can either walk to or ride a shuttle to each venue.
There will be an area directly on either side of 59 which will act as a buffer and is reserved exclusively for retail space. The front of EarthQuest will have “big box” stores, so it is likely to anticipate that you might see a Best Buy or Target before you get to the dinosaur exhibit.
All of the development that I have described so far will be located on the west side of 59. Across the highway on the east side, there will be a row of retail stores; however space is also reserved for an outlet mall.
There will be a “technology transfer center” which will offer office space for businesses supporting “green” technology and construction. Think of this as a corporate office park for businesses from around the world who are working on sustainability issues developing products and services to achieve this goal. Want to reduce the “carbon footprint” of your business? Chances are the technology transfer center will be where you will find the answers.
Dr. Matthew Gardner was recently hired to spearhead project development. Dr. Gardner is a Founding Director of Sustainserv, Inc. He formerly was the Executive Director of the Earth System Initiative, an environmental research and education center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In this role he oversaw a $40 million research and education portfolio, and was responsible for the development of new environmental research and education programs.
The remainder of the land on the east side will be for residential use. There will be both multi-family and single family structures, and all will boast the most energy efficient and eco-friendly construction products. It will be a living laboratory where scientist can study different aspects the master planned community of the future. No, not like the Jetsons, they used way too much fuel.
When can we expect ground breaking on this mammoth project? Frank McCrady anticipates fall of 2009. Mr. McCrady stated that he does not foresee any delay in construction plans as a result of the recent economic slowdown in the economy. The key players involved in this project were well positioned financially and do not interpret the current economic climate as an obstacle. On the non-profit side of things, representatives from Sage Fundraising Solutions have established potential contributors and have received a warm welcome so far. Sage will be making full presentations in early 2009 regarding the EarthQuest Institute and museum and do not anticipate any major difficulties.
As local residents this means in about six months we will see construction jobs being posted; that will be the first major financial benefit we will see from the EarthQuest Project.
Mr. McCrady summed up our conversation by sharing that he envisioned EarthQuest as “a place not only where you can go somewhere for entertainment, but come away learning something which you take with you”. “This project is dynamic, serving both an educational value as well as economic development.”