It looks like Easton won't be sleeping with the fishes.
Instead, the Da Vinci Science Center announced it’s turning the clock upside down to let visitors to its proposed $130 million Science City in Easton see what’s going on in area forests when they would normally be sleeping.
It’s a major change to the preliminary plan to bring the educational science center to Easton that was introduced in late 2016.
The Da Vinci Science Center, which is based in Allentown, held an update on the project Tuesday night to report one of the centerpieces of the original project proposal, a 500,000-gallon aquarium, is being replaced by a nature exhibit.
NatureDome, a series of full-scale, natural, immersive indoor environments, will be designed to take visitors on a journey through ecosystems found in the Lehigh Valley.
Its highlight will be a “forest at night” exhibit, which will use either infrared lighting or night vision goggles to let visitors stroll through a nighttime recreation of local wildlife habitats featuring bobcats, fireflies and even bats.
Lin Erickson, CEO and executive director of the Da Vinci Science Center, said the other components of the Science City project are still largely the same, but she understands that it was the aquarium that was getting the attention.
“It was the sexy idea, an aquarium,” she said.
But after Ripley Entertainment Inc. announced it would be bringing a competing $200 million aquarium to Tobyhanna Township, and public hearings called instead for a feature that would better highlight stories about a local environment, she said a change of focus seemed prudent.
She said it wasn’t just the proposed Pocono aquarium, but the closeness of other large aquariums in Camden and Baltimore that made an aquarium seem like less of a destination attraction.
“We have always wanted to have the most distinct attraction possible,” she said.
With the NatureDome, she said, there is nothing else like it on the East Coast of the U.S.
The closest similar project is in Montreal, and it has been very successful, she said.
“We think this will be a big draw,” Erickson said.
Other new attractions introduced for the project include a 100-foot-tall walk-through model of the human body, so visitors can learn how the body works and how to keep it healthy.
Technology that is used in industry in the Lehigh Valley also will be a part of the Science City, as will a 10,000-square-foot space designed to accommodate traveling galleries and exhibits.
Erickson noted that this is still not the final plan.
“We’re not done with the master planning process,” she said. “This is still a concept.”
This updated plan, with drawings and detailed exhibit descriptions, will be used for a marketing study to determine public reaction to the plan.
This will help determine what kind of attendance the Science City can expect and will influence size, exhibits and staffing levels.
That work is targeted to be complete by the end of June, when Da Vinci also hopes to have two-thirds of the projected $130 million cost of the project raised.
“Our goal has always been to create an experience that is unlike anything else in the Mid-Atlantic region,” Erickson said. “We believe this plan positions us well to fulfill our mission, attract large numbers of people and raise the money needed to fund the project.”