updated 11/13/2006 4:46:30 PM ET 2006-11-13T21:46:30

A dinosaur mega-attraction - Animal Kingdom meets science museum - will open its doors in the summer of 2008 in Montgomery County, north of Houston, officials announced on Thursday.

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Creator "Dino" Don Lessem, author of 47 books, builder of traveling dinosaur exhibits and columnist for a children's magazine, expects the planned $50 million Dinosaur City to bring at least 100,000 visitors its first year. Having advised people in both the entertainment industry and museums, Lessem said he wanted to create a hybrid of both.

"Neither one captures what I'm looking for: recreating the magic of the real world of dinosaurs," Lessem said. "We want people to get lost in time."

Lessem said the attraction will house the world's largest dinosaur collection, a sand pit where children can "excavate" dinosaur bones and forest trails dotted with dinosaur replicas. Indoors, visitors will be able to walk through exhibits showing what the world would have looked like millions of years ago. An animal park will display creatures that roamed during the dinosaurs' era and remain on Earth today, like emus and tuataras.

Lessem envisions school field trips, collaboration with universities and televising dinosaur digs as some of the educational benefits that can come out of this project.

What Dinosaur City won't be is a glitzy, environmentally unfriendly eyesore in the community, Lessem said.

Dinosaur City will be located in the county's improvement district, and so will fund about half of its expenditures through incentives. The other half will come from investors.

The Houston Museum of Natural Science, which boasts an impressive dinosaur exhibit, had not heard about Dinosaur City, said spokeswoman Erin Blatzer.

Most people in Montgomery County don't know about it yet either, said County Judge Alan Sadler, but he expects it'll become a major attraction in the area and bring in substantial tourism dollars.

For 25 years, the county has buzzed with baseless rumors that Disney would locate its next theme park there, Sadler said. "This is probably the closest we're going to get."

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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