Austin | Dallas | Houston
Unveiling the EarthQuest models

Like Disney World, only greener: An exclusive first look at the proposed eco theme park

News_EarthQuest_theme park_model
EarthQuest Adventures would span 1,600 acres. Photo by Meredith Riddle
News_EarthQuest_theme park_model
It would include a theme park, a water park, hotel, conference center, retail and office developments and, eventually, a residential phase. Photo by Caroline Gallay
News_EarthQuest_theme park_model
Pictured is a model of EarthQuest's Institute, a "an innovative new education and research facility with hands-on exhibits dedicated to advancing our awareness and appreciation of the environment." Photo by Meredith Riddle

For those who, like me, were left with an insatiable black hole where AstroWorld used to be, fear not. Houston might (maybe!) be getting another theme park.

And it's not just any old theme park — in fact, its proposed sheer size (1,600 acres) makes AstroWorld look like the Delaware State Fair. The proposed EarthQuest Adventures is an "edutainment" resort that includes a theme park, water park, hotel, institute and perhaps even a residential component. The massive resort is proposed for Montgomery County about 30 miles north of downtown Houston (and 15 miles from IAH), and the expanse of its operations make it more comparable to Disney Word than to AstroWorld.

And that's fitting, because its founders are all ex-Disney execs. The connections run deep, too — one of the speakers at last night's private presentation at Kirksey Architecture to an audience of developers, architects and contractors was the voice of Dale the Chipmunk before he became an engineer. CultureMap was the only media outlet in the meeting.

These imagineers, as they call themselves, have dreamt up a world where eco-education is fun, and profitable.

Think themed zones like Sky (that's where the coasters come in), Water, Land, and Life. Think singing stalagmites and mid-ride conservation lessons. The expanse will even include a non-profit arm called the Institute, planned as an educational and research center promoting sustainability and natural resource conservation.

But let's get to the good stuff, like, how much will it cost? And how will it affect Houston?

Well, Phase I (of three with Phase I being the theme park) is projected to cost $600 million. The whole thing's got an estimated $2 billion in annual expenditures, an estimated two million visitors a year and projects to make the state $250 million in annual revenue, according to the developers.

Though it may seem far-fetched (their most generous approximate timeline is three years, and they're still rounding up financing), it seems considerable local support has already been thrown behind the project. Seven million dollars in bonds have already been committed, and representatives yesterday said they've been at work on the project for six years — including two trips to the legislature.

Will EarthQuest make Houston a viable tourist destination, a la Orlando? Is it kinda ironic to plant a 1,600-acre eco-resort on top of what used to be mostly green space?

Who cares. ROLLER COASTERS!

Newsletters for exploring your city

Daily Digest

Houston news, views + events

The Dining Report

News you can eat

Insider Offers

Curated experiences at exclusive prices

Promo Alerts

Special offers + exclusive deals

We will not share or sell your email address

HTX Ready to Jingle 2014