Cocoa Beach dinosaur museum may open by summer

Steve and Donna Cayer say dream nearing reality

COCOA BEACH, Fla. - It has been a long process for Steve and Donna Cayer. But now, their dream of opening the Museum of Dinosaurs and Ancient Cultures in Cocoa Beach is in sight, and they say it could be a reality by summer.

The Cayers are using their collection of authentic artifacts and museum-quality replicas to create the museum on the second and third floors of their building on West Cocoa Beach Causeway that also houses The Dinosaur Store, Local 6 News partner Florida Today reported.

Steve Cayer said their $3.7 million museum project is about $195,000 away from completion, and he hopes to raise money from corporate and individual donations.

"It's so close," Cayer said. "If we can get two or three corporate sponsors, we can be open for summer, and have a great thing for Cocoa Beach."

Last year, the Brevard County Commission and the advisory Brevard County Tourist Development Council approved a $100,000 capital facilities grant allocation for the nonprofit museum from the county's 5 percent tax on hotel rooms, recognizing the museum's potential as a tourist attraction.

"They realize that this is a great draw," Cayer said. "We want to be a destination. This is going to be so cool to have here in Cocoa Beach."

While the Tourist Development Council vote was unanimous, the County Commission vote was not, with the $100,000 grant approved, 3-2. During discussion of the proposal, Commissioner Trudie Infantini said while she likes museums and believes this one could be popular with families with children, she would not support a tourist tax capital grant to the museum, adding that she might have supported a loan instead.

The Cayers project that about 93,000 people a year will visit the museum, with about 60 percent of them coming from outside the county. They also hope to make the museum a shore excursion option for cruise passengers making a port-of-call stop at Port Canaveral.

Margaret Bodchon, owner and vice president of SunWard Tours, a local tour company that arranges excursions for cruise passengers stopping at Port Canaveral, said the Museum of Dinosaurs and Ancient Cultures would work well as a stop on tours that might also include a visit to the beach, Ron Jon Surf Shop and Cocoa Village, for example.

The museum is a block away from Ron Jon and two blocks from the beach.

Steve Cayer said he works 20 to 40 hours a week on completing the exhibits of his 20,000-square-foot museum.

"Every day, I make a little bit of progress up here," Cayer said, adding that he hopes to be open in time for the June theatrical release of the anticipated blockbuster "Jurassic World."

Cayer and a construction team have built the exhibit space, and Titusville artist Al Rao painted the murals that offer a backdrop to many of the exhibits.

The museum will be run separately from the for-profit, 10,000-square-foot Dinosaur Store on the first floor, which the Cayers have operated since 1995. Until 2009, the shop was at smaller storefront across the street.

The first floor also has an Adventure Zone ($6 for adults, $8 for children), attached to the retail store, which includes displays of alligators up to 9 feet long, as well as snakes, lizards, tortoises and other creatures. It also has interactive science-center-style exhibits and an arcade.

The second floor will be the museum's Hall of Dinosaurs, featuring authentic fossil specimens, dioramas depicting various periods of dinosaurs, replica dinosaur skeletons, a simulated volcano and a Dawn of Man exhibit. The biggest exhibit — worth $225,000 — is an 85-foot-long replica Diplodocus skeleton, a bone-by-bone casting made from a skeleton found in Colorado.

The third floor will focus on ancient cultures, including life-size replicas of the contents of Tutankhamun's tomb that were crafted by artisans in Cairo, as well as life-size replicas of more than a dozen Chinese terra cotta soldiers.

Political unrest in Egypt delayed the Cayers from acquiring the King Tut burial chamber replicas, one factor in pushing back the museum's opening, along with a less-than-robust economy in recent years that hindered getting corporate sponsorships.

The terra cotta soldiers display is one of three big-ticket exhibits still to be acquired, Cayer said, along with a "violent Earth" hands-on exhibit and replica skeletons for the "Dawn of Man" exhibit.

During the past 12 years, the Cayers have displayed pieces from their collection in more than 40 museums throughout the country.

Steve Cayer said each exhibit at the museum will be labeled with detailed information about the historic context of each item in the display.

"It is my life passion to build a museum," Cayer said. "This isn't just eye candy. This is an educational area."

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