CLEARWATER, Florida - Officials with the Clearwater Marine Aquarium presented their expansion plans to City Council Tuesday morning in a workshop session, a day before the council's scheduled meeting.
The aquarium is proposing a $14.5 million expansion to their current facility on Island Estates, which will then be used primarily as a marine rescue center.
The plan also includes a brand new $160 million facility in the downtown area, where City Hall now sits. It also includes removal of the Harborview Center and expansion of green space near Coachman Park. The site is public land, so it is all subject to voter approval.
CMA officials said they have outgrown their current facility, thanks to their dolphin star, Winter. Visitors increased from 200,000 in 2011 to 750,000 in 2012.
"We have a world-wide platform now 'cause of [the movie] Dolphin Tale. So the attendance is going to continue to come. If you think about it, we have 75% awareness in the United States for CMA," said Mike Hurst with the aquarium.
He added that the proposal is a win-win for everybody.
"It'll be huge for us and it's huge for the city. It's going to make a big impact on the city in the sense of it's going to re-vitalize downtown," said Hurst.
The three-level, 200,000+ square-foot facility would feature things including a Coral Reef Exhibit, a Touch Tank, and a Manatee Marina.
At the workshop, council members were concerned about the city's risk in the project and also government funds.
Aquarium officials said they will not be asking for any general fund dollars.
The City Council meeting is set for Wednesday night. CMA officials plan to pay for a referendum to be on the ballot in November.