Philadelphia's Dinofest Expected to Draw 500,000 Visitors

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PHILADELPHIA -- The roar you will hear inside the Philadelphia Civic Center this spring will not be coming from the 40-foot-tall Tyrannosaurus Rex, the world's largest meat eater, or from the kinder and gentler Sauropod, a herbivore twice as tall as T-Rex. After all, the dinosaur has been extinct for 65 million years.

Instead, the commotion will come from the more than 2,400 hourly visitors to Dinofest, the largest-ever exhibition of dinosaur bones, fossils and related artifacts scheduled for the Civic Center from March 27 to April 26.

Presented by the Academy of Natural Sciences, Dinofest is expected to draw more than 500,000 visitors who will shell out $15 million on tickets, hotels, restaurants and sightseeing, said Sue Schwenderman, spokeswoman for the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Schwenderman said that Dinofest will not be as large as last year's Cezanne exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which drew 548,741 visitors.

Nevertheless, the CVB believes the public's interest in dinosaurs, especially among school children, is so great that as many as 40% of visitors to Dinofest will come from outside Philadelphia, Schwenderman said.

To accommodate these out-of-towners, many of them families, the bureau has put together a one-night package with five hotels that includes hotel parking, breakfast for three people and three tickets to the dinosaur exhibit. n addition, US Airways and National Car Rental are offering discounts to exhibitgoers.

Schwenderman said visitors to Dinofest will receive a "Bounceback" brochure with discounts at a number of family attractions in and around Philadelphia, including the Please Touch Museum, the Philadelphia Zoo, the Academy of Natural Sciences and the New Jersey State Aquarium in Camden.

Donald Wolberg, a paleontologist at the Academy of Natural Sciences and the creator of Dinofest, said ticket orders are on a pace to eclipse the previous Dinofests held in Indianapolis in 1994 and Tempe, Ariz., in 1996.

At a cost of $2 million, the Philadelphia Dinofest, which use 100,000 square feet of the Civic Center, promises to outdo them both, Wolberg said. "Historically, the shows have sold really well as soon as the word gets out," he said, noting that the Dinofest in Tempe attracted 250,000 visitors in two weeks.

Wolberg said Dinofest will be especially popular with kids because the dinosaur is an integral part of the science curriculum at schools. Helping boost interest in the event is a Dinofest Web site, http://www.dinofest.org, that has been up the past year and is registering 60,000 hits a week, Wolberg said.

Dinofest will include three Sauropods, the vegetarian giants, three T-Rex skeletons from a total of 10 carnivores and a collection of more than 100 dinosaur eggs.

The show will feature dozens of fossils from all over the world, including a small dinosaur discovered last summer in China adorned with what appears to be the remains of feathers. Russia will contribute a display of some animals believed to be ancestors of dinosaurs.

The show will feature a display of 15 life-size robotic dinosaurs and a time-line exhibit outlining the approximately 3.8-billion-year history of life on earth. Dinofest also will include a three-day scientific symposium from April 17 to 19 featuring an address by Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould.

Wolberg said the Academy of Natural Sciences will use the occasion of Dinofest to show off its new $4.2 million Dino Hall, which doubles the size of its dinosaur exhibit space.

Admission to Dinofest is $15 for adults, $10 for children 12 and under and free for children 2 and under; a $3 discount for seniors will be available at the box office only. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster locations or Charge-by-Phone at (215) 336-2000. Group ticket discounts are available by calling (888) 229-1393. To book a hotel package, call the Philadelphia Visitors Center at (800) 770-5886.

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