Lake Norman & Mooresville

Discovery Place hits sweet spot with KIDS

The hand-held race car Joe Payment created crashed on the sidewall, failing to complete the kid-sized downhill drag strip.

The opposing car, which he had built for his grandson, cruised swiftly to the finish.

As 3-year-old Dominic celebrated with his 1 1/2-year-old brother, Vincent, during a recent outing to Discovery Place KIDS-Huntersville, the elder Payment studied his car.

"I want a rematch," he said, and laughed.

The two again quickly positioned the cars at the start. The outcome? Predictable. Grandfather's car crashed again and did not make it down the track, while grandson's car dashed flawlessly to victory.

Joe Payment drove nearly 600 miles to lose consecutive car races to his grandson, but he didn't seem to mind. He will surely try again. During their trips from nearby Toledo, Ohio, to visit their daughter's family in Huntersville, Joe and Linda Payment often schedule at least one venture to Discovery Place KIDS.

"When we are in town, we come here," said Payment, 60, watching Dominic and Vincent play. "It is a great place, a safe place for them to play; intellectually stimulating."

Surpassing even the most optimistic early attendance expectations during its first year of operation, the hands-on science and education museum is proving to parents everywhere the "KIDS" concept stimulates learning, inspires imagination and creates adventure, said Discovery Place spokesman Logan Stewart.

Since the museum opened Oct. 23, 2010, more than 200,000 children and guardians have visited the Discovery Place KIDS prototype. That's nearly 200 percent of initial attendance estimates, Stewart said. The 100,000-attendance milestone was eclipsed April 6.

"Both Huntersville residents and guests from out of town alike have expressed rave reviews, amazement and appreciation for the facility, exhibits and staff," Stewart said. "The museum sees some visitors on a near-daily basis."

The growing number of visitors will continue to experience new and fresh programs and activities, Stewart said.

"The focus on new programming stems from the success and percentage of repeat visitation," Stewart said, adding that the first-year success of Huntersville's center is really just the beginning.

Discovery Place KIDS-Rockingham is under development and scheduled to open early 2013, Stewart said. Set in downtown Rockingham at the McKenzie Furniture building, it will offer virtually identical concepts as in Huntersville, Stewart said.

The Huntersville museum celebrated its first anniversary with Can Can's Masquerade Ball on Oct. 21. (Can Can is the museum mascot.)Fortunately, most guests don't have to travel as far as the Payments. Like many in the area, Huntersville resident Wendy Anderson drives there in about 10 minutes, making the trip with her 2-year-old son, Conner, at least once a week.

Expecting to deliver Conner's brother Dec. 20, Anderson, 37, recently stood in the gated toddler section, marveling at her son's development. She predicted it won't be long before big brother begins showing little brother the way around Discovery Place KIDS-Huntersville.

"This is awesome," Anderson said. "Conner gets stimulated from the different things ... all aspects of learning.

"We take full advantage of it."

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