First State Bank sponsors DPA’s Children’s Galleries
Posted: Friday, November 30, 2012 9:07 pm
By GLENDA CAUDLE
Special Features Editor
In an era when government has proven itself, time and time again, to be incapable of dealing with a dramatically depressed economy, even as political leaders have heaped scorn on the efforts of productive individuals and painted private enterprise as villains in the piece, something amazing has been taking place in Obion County.
Private citizens with a love for their community and a determination to see it thrive and businesses with a commitment to its future have stepped forward to create a towering monument to those sentiments. Ground was broken for just such an actual tower four years ago — July 1, 2008. By July 1, 2013, the gleaming, 120-foot multi-story landmark that defines the soaring hopes of Discovery Park of America will stand over a project on the verge of completion, according to Jim Rippy, chairman of the DPA board of directors.
Rippy told a crowd of impressive size at Thursday’s Obion County Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours event, hosted by First State Bank in Union City, that he expects the project to be open in time to welcome children around the time classes begin for the 2013-14 school year.
And in perfect keeping with that pledge, he welcomed John Clark, chief executive officer of First State Bank, who announced that the institution is pledging its support — the first such major corporate sponsorship to be announced — of DPA’s Children’s Galleries. In addition to approximately $500,000 in cash and in-kind pledges that include marketing and visitor financial services, the bank will provide website assistance and will encourage actual volunteer effort by bank employees in the project.
That project was conceived by, and has had major funding from, the Robert E. and Jenny D. Kirkland Foundation, which has also pledged ongoing multi-million dollar efforts focusing on the exhibits for the future. The Kirklands, both of whom grew up in this area and returned in later years to raise their own children and establish a thriving business, first shared their vision for the 50-acre project under construction in Union City’s northwest quadrant, between Everett Boulevard and the partially-constructed I-69, in October 2007.
Soon thereafter, hundreds of local citizens stepped forward to share their ideas and offer their voluntary expertise to make the dream a reality. Activity at the site of the multi-million dollar project has been increasingly dramatic over the past few months and the glass-enclosed tower, designed to be visible over a vast space, has been the most eye-catching architectural feature.
Rippy’s brief description of other attractions at the site make it clear the tower will be surrounded by multiple prospects for entertainment and education. Those possibilities will reach well outside Obion County to attract visitors to the area from all over the country and beyond, it is believed. The potential economic impact on this area boosts DPA to the level of the most impressive contribution by private citizens virtually any part of the country can boast. DPA is already recognized as the largest construction project in the Volunteer State. It is also, Rippy says, “the greatest opportunity in my lifetime.”
Stressing that DPA is not a typical museum, but a major learning center that promotes education, entertainment and tourism, Rippy offered an overview of the project he described as “the most unbelievable thing I’ve ever seen. It’s magnitude is unbelievable.”
In addition to the 15 exhibits/galleries within the 100,000 square-foot Discovery Center — the innovative structure guarded by the gleaming tower — there will be three gardens and two miles of walkways, 30 site buildings across the acres of property included within the project, 12 miles of irrigation in eye-catching water-feature detail, 24,000 plants, 750 trees and the Great Lawn/amphitheatre for outdoor entertainment.
DPA, he said, has been designed with the goal of becoming a first choice and first class venue for special programs, projects and functions, with the expectation that the facilities — including the massive Grand Hall in Discovery Center that will accommodate 300, the Tower Room that can welcome as many as 70 and the beautiful amphitheater and outdoor areas with virtually limitless space — will be used to stage company events, class reunions, at least 12 major draws per year and 50-100 individual events.
Among the fascinating galleries being set up will be areas devoted to energy, the military, Native Americans, natural history, regional history, science/space/technology, transportation and traveling exhibits of Smithsonian quality. A 20,000-gallon aquarium will showcase underwater life at Reelfoot Lake, dinosaurs will rise up in huge majesty or swoop down with giant wingspans from upper levels, vintage autos will be on display and visitors will be treated to simulation of the 1811-12 earthquakes that shaped this region and to planetary tours in a starship theater. And that’s just for starters.
Banking on it
Flanked by colorful mock-ups of the hands-on Children’s Galleries, Clark stressed that the excitement generated by the evening’s announcement was “just the beginning” of a multi-year commitment to DPA.
“The Kirkland family has proven their interest in First State Bank and our success for the past 25 years. This is a small way for us to show our appreciation. Working with Mr. Kirkland has been a wild ride,” he said, adding that he suspects, “We ain’t seen nothing yet.”
The CEO said his own recent tour of the project made him aware of the multitude of possibilities DPA offers for the entire area. He urged those attending the announcement to visit the site themselves and find out more about the many exciting exhibits and programs being planned.
“I look forward to bringing my children and grandchildren to Discovery Park of America,” he said, noting that the multi-story Children’s Galleries will appeal to youngsters of all ages.
”This is an important opportunity for First State Bank. Our focus as a bank is on families, so this is certainly an appropriate and unique way to show it.”
Included in the section that will showcase items specially designed for children will be a massive 50-foot-tall replica of the human body, stretching from one level of the facility to another and providing interior space for youngsters, and adults, to explore and move around in. The figure even incorporates a 32-foot slide stretching down one “human” leg for easy movement from one level of DPA to another.
Hands-on opportunities will also abound in the Water Works area that will feature experiments with geysers and whirlpools and fascinating opportunities to delve into the physical properties of liquids.
An architectural section will afford youthful builders the chance to create innovative structures of their own. Toddlers and infants will be the focus in Crawlers Cove and Fantasy Forest.
Rippy used Thursday’s celebration to introduce Nancy Baldridge, a retired kindergarten teacher in the Union City School System, who has chaired the volunteer committee planning the Children’s Galleries. He praised her commitment and expertise and encouraged others to volunteer their own time and talents to make DPA an outstanding venue.
On board for the future
Other local partnerships that will impact the project have been forged with Walmart, which has provided a grant for educational programming to be offered at DPA; Baptist Memorial Hospital-Union City, which will be providing first aid and is supporting the antique doctor’s office that is one of the features in the outdoor Settlement area; the University of Tennessee at Martin, which is partnering with DPA by providing interns to assist with the project; and the Elam family, which is supporting a scholarship program for horticultural internships at the site.
Rippy challenged all area business and individuals to become familiar with DPA and to get involved with the project.
“This will be a unique and world-wide opportunity. Economic development, cultural development and educational opportunity — all this will only begin to touch the surface. As Discovery Park of America opens, we’ll see how amazing it really will be.”
For more information about DPA, visit the website at www.discoveryparkofamerica.com or check out information on Facebook and Twitter. Those interested in receiving quarterly emails about DPA may sign up for such service on the website.
Mrs. Caudle may be contacted at email@example.com.
Published in The Messenger 11.30.12
Discovery Park of America, First State Bank