Aquarium feasibility study expected to be complete after November vote
CLEARWATER — Results of a study to determine the feasibility of an aquarium proposed for prime waterfront property likely won’t be available before the Nov. 5 public vote on leasing the city-owned site.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium officials on Aug. 28 commissioned the study of its plan to build a 200,000-square-foot, world-class facility where city hall now sits at Osceola Avenue and Pierce Street. Consultants from Los Angeles-based AECOM will evaluate economic projections including those relating to attendance and ticket prices by comparing them to other aquariums around the country.
“The reason we waited was that we were still negotiating the sequel to the movie — if the movie didn’t happen, then we would have had different results,” said Frank Dame, executive vice president and COO of Clearwater Marine Aquarium (www.seewinter.com).
He was referring to “Dolphin Tale 2,” set to begin filming this month at the marine animal hospital’s cramped and aging facility in a former water treatment plant on Island Estates. The family movie continues the story of Winter, the world-famous dolphin with the prosthetic tail, and introduces Hope, Winter’s tank mate.
Dame could not confirm a completion date for the study but said it’s unlikely it will be before next month’s citywide referendum. He said the study will cost $60,000 and aquarium officials didn’t want to start it without being able to factor in the significant economic impact the follow-up to “Dolphin Tale,” released in 2011, will bring to the area.
Independent confirmation of Clearwater Marine Aquarium officials’ projections could have appeased opponents who have questioned the accuracy of current cost and attendance estimates. Part of the city’s compensation for leasing the property will be tied to ticket sales.
Still, if the referendum passes, the city will have plenty of time to review the completed study before entering into the 60-year lease before the June 2015 deadline agreed to by both parties this past summer.
“The referendum will simply give the city permission to enter into negotiations with us,” Dame said. “Also, there is no deal unless we obtain financing by August 2016.”
Current projections by the Clearwater aquarium used the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta as a comparison because it’s similar in size to the proposed facility and in an area with similar demographics to the Tampa Bay region. Dame said construction cost estimates on the new aquarium were confirmed by the general contractor who built the Atlanta attraction (www.georgiaaquarium.org).
AECOM’s website, www.aecom.com, describes it as “a global provider of professional technical and management support services to a broad range of markets, including transportation, facilities, environmental, energy, water and government.”