Salt River Reservation complex that will house butterfly pavilion starting to take flight

Edward Gately, The Associated Press
January 7, 2013

PHOENIX - Like the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly, North America's largest indoor butterfly pavilion is emerging from vacant acreage just east of Scottsdale.

Butterfly Wonderland is the first phase of a 35-acre, $170million entertainment complex at the northeastern corner of the Pima Freeway and Via De Ventura, on the Salt River Reservation.

The site is teeming with construction activity, with about 50 workers on site daily.

The complex, called Odysea in the Desert, is being funded by principal partner Amram Knishinsky and a group of private investors. Other principals are Northern Gateway LLC, Martin Pollack and Rubin Stahl.

Butterfly Wonderland will encompass 5 acres and is scheduled to open in late April. The overall project includes four phases totalling 522,000 square feet.

"The atrium part of construction started last week, and for the last three months, it was manufactured in Cincinnati," Knishinsky said. "The main portion of the roof is on trucks and will be coming here in the next few days."

The project will be the latest addition to an emerging entertainment corridor that includes the Talking Stick Resort and Casino, two adjacent golf courses and the Salt River Fields spring-training baseball complex.

At Butterfly Wonderland, visitors will "embark on an enchanting journey through the life of a butterfly" via educational and interactive exhibits, leading up to the experience of walking among thousands of butterflies inside a glass atrium with tropical plants and waterfalls.

"We plan to import the butterflies from various tropical rain forests throughout the world, but that is going to take place closer to the opening date," Knishinsky said. "We're going to bring them from Costa Rica, Brazil, the Philippines and some areas of Africa. They come in cocoons and go through the process in our laboratories."

The pavilion also will include domestic butterflies from Florida.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved the design of the pavilion, as well as the procedures for bringing the butterflies into the country, Knishinsky said.

"We have purchased all the tropical trees and the vegetation that are going to be planted in the pavilion, and they will arrive sometime in the next 60 days," he said.

In addition, Butterfly Wonderland will include a 3-D, stadium-seating butterfly theatre, as well as aquarium displays, a children's play area, retail shop and cafe, Knishinsky said.

The Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau expects Butterfly Wonderland will be a positive addition to the area's tourist offerings.

"We are thrilled to welcome Butterfly Wonderland to the greater Scottsdale area in 2013," said Megan Neighbor, the bureau's communications co-ordinator. "Much like the Musical Instrument Museum or Taliesin West, Butterfly Wonderland promises to be another world-class attraction that will serve as a strong economic driver for the tourism community."

City Councilman Ron McCullagh said the project is another example of how the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community values and is committed to tourism and quality of life.

"They are great neighbours and we embrace their efforts," he said.

Scottsdale-based Renaissance Cos. is handling construction of Butterfly Wonderland. Massive steel girders are being put in place to hold the glass for the pavilion, said David Tilson, the firm's vice-president.

"In the next couple of weeks, you'll be surprised at the amount of changes," he said.

Once the pavilion is enclosed, liners will be installed, as well as soil and plants to create the sterile rain forest environment, Tilson said. In addition, labs are being built and that's where the butterfly chrysalises will be grown and hatched, he said.

The average lifespan of butterflies is two weeks, so lab workers will be constantly incubating chrysalises, Tilson said. Visitors will be able to watch the lab workers, he said.

"It's really going to be cool," he said.

The Central Arizona Butterfly Association is excited about Butterfly Wonderland, said Adriane Grimaldi, a member.

"It gives another opportunity for the public to learn about the wonders of butterflies," she said. "They are truly amazing — their life cycle, the process they go through. This type of facility gives people of all ages the chance to see butterflies up close all year long."

The second phase of Odysea in the Desert will be Odysea Aquarium, a freshwater and saltwater aquarium attraction with an IMAX theatre, and multiple restaurants and retail, Knishinsky said.

"We're looking to start construction in early 2014 and it will be somewhere between 18 and 24 months of construction," he said. "It will be much larger than the first phase, close to over 200,000 square feet."

The final two phases will include a Ripley's Believe It or Not museum and what's being called the Arizona Experience. The experience will be a "voyage through the ages," from the creation of Arizona, through the Spanish occupation and the Wild West, "in a unique, Grand Canyon auditorium-type of experience," Knishinsky said.

"The Arizona Experience will be a combination of film and interactive, basically applying to all the senses, sight down to smell, and so forth," he said.

Each restaurant at Odysea in the Desert will feature cuisine from around the world, Knishinsky said.

"We've been receiving great interest from various businesspeople who would like to open stores and restaurants, and family entertainment centres as part of it," he said.

Steve Geiogamah, Scottsdale's tourism development co-ordinator, said the city will benefit from visitors having another local amenity, and therefore potentially extending their stay.

"Also, we've always tried to target things for children to do in Scottsdale and this may be an opportunity to do that," he said.

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Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com