Clearwater voters to get say on aquarium location - WFLA News Channel 8

Clearwater voters to get say on aquarium location

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CLEARWATER, FL (WFLA) -

Since Winter the Dolphin swam into movie theaters in 2011, the visitors to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium have more than doubled.

Tonight council members approved a November referendum to let the voters decide whether to okay a 160.5 million dollar expansion. "The ref would allow us to build a new aquarium should we be able to raise all the monies and get the financing," said Frank Hibbard, CMA board member.

They want to build the new facility on the present city hall property in downtown Clearwater.  Renderings show the buildings encompassing the bluff area.

The Chairman of the Board for "The Florida Aquarium" Doug Montgomery tried to address the board with concerns he has about some of the numbers being presented.  But Mayor George Cretekos shut him down, saying there will be a time later, when those subjects will be discussed. "Our discussion tonight is not on the financing of the aquarium. Our discussion tonight is whether we should go forth with a referendum" said the Mayor.

During a break, Montgomery voiced concerns about attendance projections and construction costs. "The numbers that were presented don't necessarily look realistic. They're not feasible. And that's why we intended to make those points today" he said.  He pointed to cost overruns and inflated attendance projections that plagued The Florida Aquarium when it was built 20 years ago.  "They need to know what they're getting into. Is it economically feasible and then is it sustainable long term?" said Montgomery.

Most of the money would come from fundraising but aquarium officials are also asking for a portion of the tourist bed tax and future downtown redevelopment funds.  "None of the money people pay in ad valorem taxes would go to pay for this," said Hibbard.

If all goes on schedule with fundraising, the new aquarium would be built by 2017.

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