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Many companies expand by erecting a new building or by hiring more employees. At Valleyfair, the amusement park in Shakopee, expansion means adding a 72-foot-long Ruyangosaurus to the mix.

That's a dinosaur. A really big dinosaur. A life-sized replica will anchor a new exhibit at Valleyfair beginning May of 2013.

The toothy prehistoric giant is part of a $3.5 million expansion in the southern Twin Cities suburban park, the largest of its kind in the Upper Midwest.

Called Dinosaurs Alive!, the interactive dinosaur park will feature 30 animated dinosaurs in seven scenes spread along a 2,827-foot pathway. Each dinosaur, including tyrannosaurus rex, triceratops and stegosaurus, will be accompanied with information on how the beasts lived in its primitive world. Some of the dinos will have interactive consoles that will allow visitors to guide their movements, and a paleontological dig will be available for kids to uncover "prehistoric fossils." A new dinosaur-oriented gift shop is in the mix, too.

The dinosaur exhibition has been rolled out this year at other amusement parks owned by Valleyfair's $1 billion parent, Cedar Fair Entertainment Co. Keeping exhibits and rides fresh is critically important for Cedar Fair, which competes against other forms of entertainment and recreation for families' limited discretionary dollars.

As more people forgo traditional vacations and as it costs more to fill up the gas tank, consumers may opt for regional entertainment options like Valleyfair instead of traditional vacations, said Jeffrey Thomison, an analyst for Hilliard Lyons in Louisville, Ky.

"With a fragile economy, people want to be entertained and escape the realities of their lives, even if for a day," he said.

Cedar Fair has 11 amusement parks and six water parks nationwide. In results released after Labor Day, Cedar Fair said year-to-date net revenue increased 5 percent or $40 million to about $881 million for all of its parks across the country. Driving the year-over-year growth was a 4 percent increase in average guest per capita spending to $41.74, along with a 1 percent increase in attendance to 19.4 million visitors. Valleyfair's numbers are not broken out separately in public filings.

Some analysts who follow the company based in Sandusky, Ohio, credit new CEO Michael Ouimet with the firm's strong performance. A Disney alum who took over the chief executive's position earlier this year, "he clearly knows the industry and cares deeply about guests, employees and investors," Thomison said.

Cedar Fair's stock has increased 53 percent this year.

The expansion at Valleyfair also includes building a new catering area, which will feature picnic areas and food offerings. The dinosaur exhibit, suitable for all ages, will be located on five acres where an antique auto display is now.

Dinosaurs Alive! is similar to but larger than the touring dinosaur exhibit the Minnesota Zoo featured this summer.

Valleyfair's exhibit "will bring science and technology together to not only entertain, but educate our guests," said Dave Frazier, the park's vice president and general manager.

Janet Moore • 612-673-7752


Dinosaurs Alive! is part of a $3.5 million expansion at Shakopee's Valleyfair amusement park.

30 animated

dinosaurs will be featured in seven scenes along a 2,827-foot path.

The expansion also includes building a new catering area, featuring picnic areas and food offerings.

The new exhibit will be at Valleyfair at the beginning of May 2013