Discovery Park of America to Open in 2013

Unique $100 Million Attraction to Boost Education, Economy and Tourism in Rural Tennessee

UNION CITY, TN – November 30, 2013…Discovery Park of America is a multi-million dollar new educational and tourist attraction located in Union City, TN, that is being built adjacent to the new Interstate 69.  Union City is a small town of approximately 11,000 people located in a rural area of West Tennessee (Obion County).  The former stomping grounds of Davy Crockett and the site of one of the world’s natural wonders, Reelfoot Lake, this  mostly rural area is an unlikely site for an attraction of this caliber and scope.   

The new Discovery Park of America is expected to be a major boost for the local economy and tourism by providing an attraction that has been described as “Smithsonian-like” and offering experiences normally found only in large metropolitan cities.    In addition to Discovery Park of America’s significant educational value, this attraction has several exhibits and experiences with high entertainment value.  For example, visitors can enjoy thrilling theater experiences, slide down the 32-foot leg of a giant human body structure, see a replica of the Liberty Bell, or tour an old settlement village.

This highly ambitious $100 million project is primarily financed by the Robert E. and Jenny D. Kirkland Foundation, and it fulfills a personal vision of Robert Kirkland, a native son of Union City.  To date, the Kirkland Foundation has committed approximately $70 million for the construction of the Discovery Park, and has committed several million dollars to support future expansion and operation of the Park.

With closure of the county’s largest employer in 2011, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber production plant, the soon-to-open Discovery Park of America is expected to be a long-term boost to the economy.  With the employment of 30-35 full time staff and dozens of part-time staff, in addition to thousands of  annual visitors to the park, the estimated economic impact is projected to be approximately $15 million annually.  Construction economic impact will total more than $150 million.

“This area was a wonderful place to grow up,” says, Robert Kirkland.  “My family’s focus on education and hard work provided the foundation for my success. People here are hard-working and intelligent and deserve a great future. It was my goal to build a permanent venue to enhance education for children as well as adults and to do it in an entertaining way for all ages. I hope it will be a destination that people will visit again and again and walk away each time having learned something new about our universe, our planet, culture in other parts of the world,  the unique history of our region, people that made our country great and with an expectation for continued innovation.”

This ambitious project began with a directive by Kirkland for architects to design a building that will “possibly stop traffic at 70 mph.” His goal was for a design that was so unique and unexpected that it would arouse the curiosity of area residents and travelers along the newly constructed I-69 and compel travelers to visit.  After a lengthy search, the foundation selected Verner Johnson, Inc., a Boston-based architectural firm that specializes in museum designs. Verner Johnson, has designed over 200 museums throughout the world.

Verner Johnson presented the ultra-modern design as a turnkey project that included two exhibit partners.  New York City based Thinc Design, recognized for their work on the new 9/11 Memorial Museum at the new World Trade Center, was retained to develop the concept for the exhibit galleries in Discovery Center.  Exhibit fabricator, Maltbie, a New Jersey firm with over 300 permanent exhibitions to their credit, was hired to build the exhibits in Discovery Center.   Louis Sirianni, AIA, LEED AP, and the president of Verner Johnson, headed the entire design project.  One of the design elements that offered the greatest challenge was to build a structure that would meet US Building Codes for a region with the highest seismic category because it is only 30 miles from the New Madrid fault.

Discovery Center, the centerpiece of Discovery Park and the primary exhibit building, is now under construction and scheduled to be completed during the summer of 2013.  It is a futuristic, ultra-modern glass and white aluminum structure that features five curved roof structures of different shapes and heights; anchored by a spaceship-style 120-foot tower with glass sections in the floor of the indoor and outdoor observation areas. Visitors begin the tour with an exhibit about the region’s history followed by a trip through the ages with the first Americans.  The three level atrium features large dinosaur skeletons and other natural history exhibits.   The nine educational galleries in Discovery Center include:  Regional History, Military, Transportation, Native Americans, Science, Space & Technology, Children’s Gallery, Energy, Enlightenment – A Cabinet of Curiosities, and Natural History. Gallery space is also reserved for travelling exhibits and art.

Unique displays include a theater that simulates the 1811-12 New Madrid earthquakes, reportedly some of the most violent quakes ever measured in North America; a planetary tour that takes place on a 30 foot diameter 270 degree curved screen in the Starship Theater; a 20,000 gallon aquarium that reveals the underwater life of Reelfoot Lake, and a 50-foot replica of the human body that includes a fun 32-foot slide.

The grounds of Discovery Park provide a variety of entertainment and educational venues including:

  •   Japanese, European, and American gardens
  •   The Depot with a locomotive and various train cars
  •   The Barn which showcases historic farming equipment
  •   Freedom Square, a tribute to America’s independence with a replica of the Liberty Bell
  •   The Settlement.  a community reminiscent of the early 1800’s
  •   The Chapel, a restored century old church
  •   Mill Ridge with a working gristmill of circa 1800 wooden gears and grinding wheels
  •   Discovery Stream, a water feature with weirs and waterfalls that bisects the site

Each of the galleries and surrounding grounds’ exhibits were developed with the assistance and planning of almost 250 community volunteers through a process of open community meetings to discern what exhibits and attractions would provide the most educational and entertainment value.

Jim Rippy, Discovery Park of America board Chairman, says, “Discovery Park of America is a gift to the people of this region and to anyone that values history, science, nature, and art. We are excited about next year’s opening and how it will influence education for people of all ages. Discovery Park of America is a treasure for our region and will be for generations to come.”

To see the latest developments being made at the new Discovery Park of America go to, or connect with Discovery Park of America via Facebook or Twitter. For additional information about Discovery Park of America, contact Director of Communications and Development, Larry Snider, at 423-963-0442, or

Leslie Allen

PR Manager


Discovery Park of America, currently under construction in Union City, TN, will soon offer visitors a world-class educational and entertainment experience. With more than 70,000 SF of exhibits focused on nature, science, technology, history, and art, the 50-acre complex will open in mid-2013.

Discovery Park’s mission is education: To enhance children and adults’ educational experiences and to inspire them to reach their full potential. Discovery Park’s exhibits and programs will compel visitors of all ages to “see beyond” their current level of knowledge in many areas.

The Robert E. and Jenny D. Kirkland Foundation is Discovery Park’s principal benefactor. The Kirkland’s are long-time supporters of education in the area. Their foundation has donated or committed approximately $70 million to the creation of Discovery Park and has created a program of $2-3 million continuing support after opening for operational support and expansion.

Cooperation and Involvement
Discovery Park of America is a cooperative endeavor with the citizens of Union City, as well as Obion and surrounding counties. Hundreds of dedicated volunteers are helping plan each area of the venue. Local and state government has also taken an active role in the Park’s development.

Discovery Center
The centerpiece of Discovery Park will be Discovery Center, a 100,000-square-foot building that will showcase ten exhibit galleries: Children’s Exploration, Energy, Enlightenment, Military, Native Americans, Natural History, Regional History, Science/Space/Technology, and Transportation. In addition, a Special Exhibit Gallery will feature travelling exhibits.


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Quick facts

Discovery Park of America is located on 50 acres in Union City, TN. Discovery Park of America is largely financed by the Robert E. and Jenny D. Kirkland Foundation. The new Smithsonian-like museum is being built in a mostly rural, agricultural location in West Tennessee. Discovery Park of America will feature 11 different galleries and will have many educational facilities on the park grounds. Discovery Park of America is located very near Interstate 69 that connects Canada to Mexico. The Interstate is not yet completed in Obion County.
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“Discovery Park of America is a gift to the people of this region and to anyone that values history, science, nature, and art. We are excited about next year’s opening and how it will influence education for people of all ages. Discovery Park of America is a treasure for our region and will be for generations to come.”
Jim Rippy, Discovery Park of America Board Chairman