Bird aviary, hotel among development to transpire at OdySea in the Desert

OdySea in the Desert is at 9500 E. Via de Ventura. (photo by Lauren Crites)

It isn’t a traditional theme park, but the arena that first housed a butterfly pavilion, aquarium and a dolphinarium is now planning for a bird observatory, dinosaur park and a hotel.

OdySea in the Desert lead developer Dr. Amram Knishinsky confirmed the district is in planning stages for new development within its 35 acres.

In a unique aspiration driven by childhood memories and passions, the local developer is working to create a destination for Arizona residents.

While the desert heat has made developers reticent of building any type of major theme park within the Valley, Dr. Knishinsky is aiming to provide a “reversed” type of park.

“To be able to do it indoor is really going to help us cater, and really bring it year-round to everyone,” said Dr. Knishinsky in a Jan. 31 phone interview. “I know already, what’s happening with the aquarium and Butterfly Wonderland — we’re extremely busy.”

OdySea in the Desert is at the Loop 101 and Via de Ventura along the eastern boundary of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.

OdySea aquarium houses a number of fish, sharks, penguins and more. (submitted photo)

The area anchored first by Butterfly Wonderland in 2013, and then the OdySea Aquarium and Dolphinaris this fall, is planning to add a boutique hotel, a dinosaur park and a bird observatory.

In construction now is a Four Peaks Mine and an icy game environment called Polar Play. The area has already opened restaurants, an in-door carousel and a mirror maze.

Dr. Knishinsky’s ultimate goal, he says, is to offer families a place to come and be able to stay on the property for two to three days, entertained by the multiple attractions offered.

A labor of love

“It’s a unique way of doing things,” Dr. Knishinsky explained.

“In summer all the theme parks in the country do extremely well during the busiest time and kids are out of school. Here it’s 110 so it doesn’t lend itself to hundreds of millions of dollars in development. We reversed that by doing everything indoor and actually give people the opportunity to visit that.”

A main theme coursing through the vein of OdySea in the Desert is the attractions include something that is living.

Dr. Knishinsky said nature certainly is an important aspect.

“It has been a passion of mine over the years,” he said in a Jan. 31 phone interview. “Growing up in Israel, the sea was the Mediterranean, it was wonderful and

I grew up spending a lot of time around it.”

Additionally, while unveiling the largest-known butterfly sculpture in January at this first OdySea development, Butterfly Wonderland, Dr. Knishinsky reminisced on some of the remarks he made during the presentation.

“The remark that I made was remembering my father taking me to flower fields in Israel that were used to export flowers from Israel to an international flower

(Photo by Lori Johnson)

market in Amsterdam. On the occasion that I would visit there, there would be thousands of butterflies flying away,” he said.

“It always stuck in my mind.”

He said he first saw an indoor butterfly pavilion 18 years ago, and made up his mind then that he was going to build one himself.

A busy future

The bird aviary, coined Paradise Earth, is in the works to be a large-scale bird aviary housing approximately 4,000 to 5,000 birds flying freely.

“Our plans and intention is to attract about a million visitors to Paradise Earth,” he said.

Paradise Earth is to be a 2- to 3-acre rainforest environment, standing about 80 feet tall with a glass roof, said Dr. Knishinsky.

“We intend to plant inside a rainforest atmosphere, with trees and plants that we would bring from other parts of the country,” he said.

The thousands of birds living in the aviary will find homes at every level.

“Most of the time some stay on the ground, some at the 40- to 50-foot level, and some will find their home in the top of the tree,” he said. “So we will create a tree of life in the middle of the atrium with an elevator going up to a tree house.”

Patrons will also be able to watch activities and experience the birds from the top. Other plans include a monkey island with a variety of live monkeys, a water fall, an amphitheater and an area showing traditional habitat and typical activity in the Amazon.

“It extends another attraction as part of the OdySea in the Desert, in the nature way of doing that. We believe that one of the most popular hobbies in the U.S. is bird watching,” he said.

“Nature will provide us with colors and different species, and what we have here is wonderful colors and butterflies with colors of fish, and now it comes down to the birds and they are just a beautiful creature to admire.”

Dr. Knishinsky says the facility will be educational, and teach about the art of flying. The project is in the design phase, and he hopes to start construction sometime at the end of the year.

Next door to Paradise Earth is to be a dinosaur park. Dr. Knishinsky says they are working with a group to develop the park that would occupy between six to eight acres.

Also in discussion has been hotel suites featuring a kitchenette, aimed to provide families a comfortable stay.

“We believe families coming up from Tucson can then stay the night and have a kitchenette and attend the multiple attractions because we will be in position to offer enough things to do for two to three days,” he said.

Opening soon at OdySea in the Desert is an icy -5 degrees, environment called Polar Play.

“You actually need to wear a coat and gloves to get in,” said Dr. Knishinsky. “There will be ice and games in it, and you would serve drinks in ice glasses. It’s a north polar experience.”

The venue is to hold family-friendly activities during the day and turn into an ice-lounge for adults.

A Four Peaks mine modeled after the mountain range to the east will also be opening, and that will be a replica of the Amethyst mine. Visitors will wear a lighted mining helmet and walk through the mine, where there will be 30 minerals from around the world to find and identify.

Northeast Valley News Editor Melissa Rosequist can be e-mailed at or can be followed on Twitter at

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