A future exhibit at the Minnesota Zoo may show off beasts made of nuts and bolts rather than the usual fur and feathers.
The Apple Valley zoo is taking steps toward creating a display with 20 animatronic dinosaurs now featured at Valleyfair, which is ending its Dinosaurs Alive attraction after six years.
Zoo officials said the life-size, scientifically accurate mechanical creatures would likely be donated to the zoo by Premier Exhibitions, which contracts with Cedar Fair Entertainment Co., Valleyfair’s parent company, to put the dinosaurs in amusement parks around the country.
“The zoo has a history of having dinosaurs at the zoo, and they’re popular,” said Dave Frazier, the zoo’s deputy director. “It’s a one-time opportunity to have dinosaurs … that are being removed from a facility.”
On Monday, the zoo’s board of trustees approved spending $1.2 million on several contracts that would make the exhibit possible. Those contracts would pay for the animated dinosaurs — some are 70 feet long — to be taken apart, moved to Apple Valley and assembled in their new home by spring 2020, when the exhibit would debut.
Abigail Mosher, the Minnesota Zoo chief financial officer, emphasized that acquiring the dinosaurs isn’t a done deal.
“We still don’t have any contracts executed,” she said, adding that the final budget for fiscal 2020 is pending.
The Minnesota Zoo has hosted mechanical dinosaurs several times, most recently in 2016. Contracting to bring in the dinosaurs costs $300,000 to $400,000 each year, officials said.
“Dinos have proven to be the biggest draw by far; we have that statistically,” said Zoo Director John Frawley. “So it currently does pulse our attendance greatly.”
The new exhibit would be semi-permanent and set up by the zoo’s east entrance, officials said. The cost would be included in general admission.
“We want to make it a classy, well-done dino experience so that it gets word of mouth,” Frawley said.
Frank Weidner, chairman of the zoo’s board of trustees, said the board was excited because the zoo hasn’t received any capital funding from the state since 2014. “It’s been a while since we’ve had anything really new,” he said.
The dinosaurs would create a novel experience for guests while the zoo waits to embark on bigger projects to be detailed in its forthcoming master plan, Weidner said.
Valleyfair spokeswoman Kelsey Bailey confirmed that the dinosaurs are “going extinct” at the Shakopee theme park when the 2019 season ends, though some other Cedar Fair parks will still have dinosaurs.
“We’ve just had them for a while, and we’re always looking to improve the guest experience,” she said.
Bailey said the dinosaurs, which were installed in 2013, provide a “really interactive experience.” Guests can push buttons to make them move and learn facts about the prehistoric creatures as they walk through, she said.
At the board of trustees meeting, Frawley touted the dinosaurs’ appeal, especially with children.
“There’s a new crop of dino lovers every year,” he said.
Erin Adler • 612-673-1781