Posted: Monday, November 15, 2010 12:00 am | Updated: 1:03 am, Sun Nov 21, 2010.
By TIM WILLERT
| 5 comments
It’s back to the drawing board for the proposed EarthQuest Adventures project.
The developer told East Montgomery County Investment District board members Nov. 10 the 550-acre mixed-use project, which features a 150-acre dinosaur theme park and museum, must be re-packaged and built in phases in order to secure investors.
“We don’t know if we can raise $500 million for a green field project in this market,” Marlin Atlantis CEO John Marlin told the board.
Which is why Marlin proposed a redesign that is going to require about $200 million less to get started
but will make two potential investors happy.
One, Guggenheim Partners, a financial services firm based in New York, would be willing to invest between $200 million and $300 million if the project is re-phased, while a second investor, an unidentified Houston group, is close to committing $85 million to the project, Marlin said.
“I feel real good about where we are going,” he said. “I am just as confident today that we can get EarthQuest done.”
The first phase of the re-design — the dinosaur theme park and museum - will cost approximately $307 million to build, but will begin generating income and attracting other investors, EMCID President and CEO Frank McCrady said.
“This is a model that has worked in other theme park developments,” McCrady said. “As an investor, I think it’s more of a wise decision to take the main development and do it first and then add ancillary development.”
The EarthQuest Adventures project will be located at Roman Forest Boulevard and U.S. Highway 59.
The second phase of development presented to the board, known as Earth Walk, would include a retail development portion. Additional phasing will include a water park, entertainment center component and hotel component as funding becomes available.
“The most important thing is the cost of funds for additional development goes down once construction starts,” McCrady said. “If you have a proven project, you abate some of the risk.”
That goes for tenants, too, Marlin told the board.
“My guess is that by the time the them park is half done, hotels and retailers will show interest,” he said.
As for a new timetable, Marlin told the board it likely would be the end of January before a new package can be presented to investors, and another six months beyond that before construction starts.
“That’s a reasonable expectation,” McCrady said. “You can pick a date and we’ll be wrong three times.”
Contour Entertainment President Christopher Brown, the project’s master planner and lead designer, presented a preliminary re-phase to board members, letting them know that a $500 million vision and a $300 million reality “is a very different thing.”
“We’re trying to make the strongest showing we can,” Brown said, “but it won’t all be there on opening day.”
And that’s OK with McCrady.
“We’d rather break ground on a theme park than wait for everything to get funded at once,” he said. “Our main interest is ensuring that they get the right partner, the right investor, instead of rushing in and going with the wrong investor.”