Discovery Park catches attention of tourism specialists
By GLENDA H. CAUDLE - Special Features Editor
The Messenger. 10.12.07
Wednesday’s press conference to announce the launching of the $100 million dollar Discovery Park of America project in Union City by the Robert E. and Jenny D. Kirkland Foundation claimed the attention of tourism executives and business and industry officials in the state, as well as local residents.
Two of those — Garry Mason, executive director of Northwest Tennessee Tourism, which is one of eight or nine agencies across Tennessee that receive matching funds and work with the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development to promote tourism, and Mike Philpot, executive director of West Tennessee Industrial Association — made a trip to Union City Thursday afternoon to learn more about the project.
They came in knowing little about the ambitious plans and left with some high-flying ideas of their own that will help those who have signed on to the project locally make Discovery Park the national treasure it is sure to be.
The foundation has already purchased 50 acres on the west side of Everett Boulevard across the highway from Union City Second Baptist Church to build the museum-tourism center-garden and green area-conference center, and it has secured the services of world-renowned architect Douglas Cardinal of Ottawa, Canada, to design the project. It is the Kirklands’ goal to provide a first class facility that will educate, enlighten and entertain local residents while attracting national tourist interest for the benefit of the community as well.
Kirkland informed his out-of-town guests and a group of local citizens named to the Discovery Park marketing committee that he had already been contacted by a business man from a Tennessee city who heard about the concept and wanted to discuss plans to open a tourist-related project in the area.
Members of the committee, working with staff from the Obion County Chamber of Commerce and the Obion County Joint Economic Development Council, will be charged with many responsibilities, but it became apparent early in Thursday’s session that advising major hotel chains, restaurants and other tourism-related businesses of the 2010 opening of Discovery Park of America must be one of the first items of business.
The creature comforts of tourists visiting Discovery Park must, of course, be attended to as soon as the doors open, and that effort will make beneficial dollars flow into both business bank accounts and local tax coffers.
Mason noted that a huge amount of state revenue related to tourism development and promotion has been siphoned into East Tennessee for many years. Funds have been well allocated in advising those with vacation time and funds to spend to head for the Great Smoky Mountains-Sevierville-Pigeon Forge triad and then travel on south to Chattanooga. The announcement of Discovery Park of America, he noted, should bring a much larger and fairer share of those development funds and interest to West Tennessee, benefiting not only Union City and Obion County but all the western third of the state.
“From a tourism standpoint, this is huge,” he said.
Philpot encouraged members of the committee to think big and reach out to the giants of the tourism industry to form partnerships that will further advance the original ambitious concept.
Following the marketing committee meeting, Kirkland shifted gears and went into a second session at the Obion County Public Library with several more citizens invited to be part of the project’s Visioning Committee. This group will be working with Cardinal when he travels to Union City Monday. Although he has already presented some preliminary ideas to Kirkland and others who have been quietly formulating Discovery plans, the architect prefers to meet with citizens from the area and hear their hopes and dreams for the project before he settles on a final design.
After his arrival Monday, Cardinal will tour the site selected for Discovery Park of America and take a look at the Obion County Museum on Edwards Street in Union City. Tuesday through Thursday, he will be spending many hours “thinking outside the box” with members of the committee as they envision specific rooms or areas for the museum and delve into ideas they want to see represented in the project.
While several concepts have already been suggested, committee members are interested in ideas from all citizens — including children and youth.
Members of the committee include Kirkland, Larry Mink, Polly Putman, Alice Fennel, Ernest Daniels, Nancy Baldridge, Tracey Batey, John Bell, Carl Ullrich, Bob Nichols, Pat Wade, Jack Hudgens, Jim Cooper, Johnny Bacon, Cloney Taylor, Mrs. Fligor, Marti Eakin Doss, Jean Bell, Kay Smith and Doris Robinson.
For more information about the Discovery Park of America project, see The Messenger’s Wednesday edition or read the story online at nwtntoday.com.
A Web site for Discovery Park of America will be open soon.
Contact Mrs. Caudle at firstname.lastname@example.org.