Dinosphere Transformation

Although it was only five years old, by 2001 the Cinedome’s days were numbered. Lower than expected attendance—affected in part by the opening of an IMAX facility downtown in White River State Park—coupled with the ongoing expense of operating and maintaining a large-format movie theater led the museum’s president and CEO Jeffrey Patchen and the Board of Trustees to decide it was time to try something new. So they turned to something old . . . really, really old.

Created by sculptor Brian Cooley, three life-size Alamosaurs announce the exhibit Dinosphere: Now You’re in Their World in the space formerly occupied by the Cinedome.

As part of a long-range plan unveiled in early 2002, Patchen announced that the Cinedome would be transformed into a huge new gallery devoted to dinosaurs from the Cretaceous Period, 65 million years ago. Rather than tear down the domed structure, the museum would recycle it and fill it with reconstructed skeletons of a couple of T. rexes, a Triceratops and 11 other full-sized dinosaurs, and put them in realistic settings, based on the latest scientific thoughts on the sights and sounds of the time. Dubbed Dinosphere: Now You’re in THEIR World®, it would be an immersive excursion into a prehistoric era so remote it might as well be science fiction, but it wasn’t. And that’s what made it such an exciting project.

With a price tag of $23 million ($18 million in construction costs, plus a $5 million endowment), the transformation began in 2002, with work continuing almost up to opening day in June 2004. To make the transformation even more enticing, the museum contracted with renowned dinosaur sculptor Brian Cooley to create a trio of life-size Alamosaurs— an adult and two juveniles—seemingly breaking out of Dinosphere through to the lawn outside the domed structure.

But there was more to the project than the Cinedome conversion. It also included the first phase of a new master plan for the museum’s campus—a $31-million project consisting of the construction of a four-story parking garage, an elevated walkway from the garage to the museum’s Festival Park, walkways from the Welcome Center to Dinosphere and from Dinosphere to the All Aboard! gallery, and an expanded dining area.

In all, the combined $54-million effort transformed not only the Cinedome, but a large portion of the museum’s west-facing campus, making it more inviting than ever to visit.