Winter the dolphin pictured with poolmate Hope back in December 2012. (Image courtesy The Clearwater Marine Aquarium.)
UPDATE: With all 40 precincts reporting, Clearwater residents approved the expansion of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
The results on Clearwater Charter Amendment was 54.9 percent in favor, and 45.1 percent opposed.
CLICK HERE FOR PINELLAS COUNTY ELECTION RESULTS
Clearwater, Florida - Tuesday's election comes with a measure that, if approved, organizers say will bring a million people to Downtown Clearwater.
A new state-of-the-art $160 million facility for Winter the dolphin would be built and the city would also get a much needed new City Hall building to replace the old one near the corner of Pierce and Osceola Street.
But people on both sides of the issue are trying to get the word out to voters. Some say the idea is a waterfront giveaway, is too risky for taxpayers, and will be a traffic nightmare. Others say it will bring a lot of tourists and jobs to the area.
Tom Peterson is against the idea. He's a member of Friends of Clearwater, which is opposed to the referendum. He says, "There's no guarantee that this thing will be profitable."
And that's just one of several concerns the group has against the measure. They're trying to convince voters to vote against plans that would transform the public land into a 3-level, 200,000 square-foot facility.
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium wants to expand. Those with the facility say they've outgrown their current building due to the rock star popularity of the dolphin known worldwide as Winter.
Former mayor of Clearwater Frank Hibbard is a CMA board member. He wants people to vote "yes" and says, "We already have a track record. We're drawing a quarter of a million people to a wastewater treatment plant. We've been successful in spite of ourselves."
But Peterson wants proof this new venture will work. He says, "There's no guarantee that this thing will be profitable. The CMA is going to be looking for government money. They're talking about $160 million dollars for a business that's doing roughly $15 million dollars of revenue a year. It just doesn't look to us that it will work."
Hibbard says, "I appreciate the sentiments of some of the naysayers, but they really come from two condo buildings and they just don't want it in their particular backyard."
Peterson says that's not true. The Oaks of Clearwater and Water's Edge Condos are located on either side of City Hall, and while Peterson does live at one of them, he says there are several issues he and others in his group are concerned about, like traffic. The group is concerned that the referendum removes citizen safeguards from the charter too.
Peterson says, "When they fail, they come back to the city to bail them out. It happened in Tampa. The Florida Aquarium is a wonderful place ... great facility, great services. It hasn't saved Channelside."
Hibbard adds, "If we don't raise the money by August of 2016, then the agreement dissolves. City Hall stays where it is and CMA continues to operate on Island Estates."
People have complained that the wording on the referendum that you will see on the ballot is confusing, so click on to each side's website to learn more about whether you should vote Yes or No.