CLEARWATER — A last-minute agenda item was presented at this month's city council meeting just after city leaders unanimously approved tentative terms with Clearwater Marine Aquarium officials to build a $160 million facility on city-owned land.
The timely request sought approval to lease 42,000 square feet on the ground floor at Harborview Center to the production company that will film the sequel to “Dolphin Tale,” the 2011 family drama featuring the story of Winter, the tailless dolphin. The success of the movie caused attendance at the existing marine animal hospital on Island Estates to skyrocket and spurred development plans for a larger aquarium.
The city council unanimously approved the six-month lease at the Harborview Center. The production company will be charged $1 for the term of the lease and be responsible for all maintenance and repairs to the space. The company has the option to extend the lease for up to three months.
The same space was used to house operations for the original movie. The lease became effective last week and, according to the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce, crew members already have started to arrive in town.
The top floor of the city-owned Harborview Center currently houses Clearwater Marine Aquarium's attraction Winter's Dolphin Tale Adventure, which opened in December 2011 following the first film's release. Exhibits include rebuilt scenes, sets, costumes and props used in the original movie.
Located downtown on Cleveland Street next to the library and overlooking Clearwater Bay, the 50-year-old building is a defunct convention center that over the years housed two department stores. City leaders considered demolishing the building prior to leasing a portion of it to the aquarium.
“Dolphin Tale 2” will be produced by Alcon Entertainment and distributed by Warner Bros. Filming is expected to begin sometime in October and continue through January. The anticipated release date is in September 2014.
The original cast including Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman have signed on to reprise their roles in the sequel. “Dolphin Tale 2” will tell another story inspired by Winter and will introduce Hope, an orphaned Atlantic bottlenose dolphin recovered on Florida's east coast near the same location the wounded Winter was found entangled in a crab trap line.
Hope, now 2 years old, was brought to Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where she was initially bottle-fed and has bonded with Winter and Panama, the facility's other female dolphin.