Clearwater, Florida -- A proposed $160 million plan to expand the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is heading to the November ballot.
That referendum will ask voters in the city if it's okay to hand over the current site of run-down City Hall to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium to build a world-class new facility.
The $160 million building would be the new home for Winter, the dolphin who learned to swim with a prosthetic tail and was featured in the movie Dolphin Tale.
Aquarium leaders and supporters pointed to a USF study that predicted the movie alone would drive 2.3 million visitors to the Tampa Bay area in 2016.
The aquarium's leaders say the new building in Downtown Clearwater would draw 2.5 million visitors when it opens in 2017.
Former Mayor Frank Hibbard told 10 News, "What this means is we can get started. But if we don't get the money, we will not go through with the project."
But what about the cost? Hibbard promises no new taxes. Taxpayers don't have to foot the bill; the money will come mainly through donors and grants. "We did this so there would be no cost to taxpayers," he said.
Officials will also rely on money from the state, the bed tax, and a portion of property taxes.
So what did residents think? One by one, people came up to the microphone sharing support. Only a few people cautioned the council to slow down. One woman even brought up the painful question of Winter passing on once the aquarium is built in the dolphin's honor.
"It's something to think about. I hope Winter lives a long life, but that's a lot of pressure."
The Florida Aquarium in Tampa had similarly big predictions for attendance in its first year, planning on at least 1.8 million visitors.
They got fewer than one million.
The Florida Aquarium lost money for years. It currently draws about 650,000 visitors a year, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
For some perspective -- if the Clearwater Marine Aquarium's new facility does draw its predicted 2.5 million people, it would be the most popular aquarium in the United States.
It would beat last year's attendance for the Shedd Aquarium, which is the most popular cultural attraction in Chicago, as well as the world-renowned Georgia Aquarium.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium's director told theTampa Bay Times the new aquarium would break even as long as it had just shy of a million visitors a year.
Again, for comparison, the Times says The Florida Aquarium in Tampa right now draws 650,000 visitors a year.