Aquarium plans would reshape downtown Clearwater - FOX 13 News

Aquarium plans would reshape downtown Clearwater

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CLEARWATER (FOX 13) -

The entire face of downtown Clearwater could be about to change, all to make way for a new home for Clearwater's movie star dolphin.

Even city hall could be demolished in the proposed plans for a new, 200,000 square foot Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

City hall sits on a bluff overlooking the intracoastal waterway; half a block away is Harborview and Coachman Park.

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium would cover all of this.

Some say it could be the biggest development ever in Clearwater.

"It's the biggest thing to hit Clearwater ever, probably, but so is Winter," said Frank Hibbard, the former Clearwater mayor who now sits on the board of the aquarium.

The facility would be 200,000 square feet, with some very famous residents.

"Winter would be here, Hope would be here, all of our turtles would be here. So, all of the residents would move here," Hibbard said.

Winter the Dolphin is the star of a motion picture that has brought hundreds of thousands of new visitors to Clearwater.

She and other Clearwater Marine Aquarium animals can never be released into the wild. But her newfound fame has created a need for quick action.

"We are hoping to go to referendum in November of this year and the reason for that is we truly are outgrowing our space," Hibbard said. "We have people that are coming literally from all over the world to see Winter."

Hibbard said there are 750,000 visitors, and that all that traffic is a strain on the current location.

So in broad strokes, the plans would demolish City Hall, build a new attraction capable of hosting 2.5 million visitors a year, and keep the existing CMA aquarium strictly as an animal hospital.

The plan would also demolish Harborview and stitch it together with Coachman Park -- creating a destination park.

Proponents say that combination could ignite a lot of economic development.

"I wouldn't say it just impacts downtown [Clearwater]," Hibbard said. "I think you need to be looking at Pinellas County and the Tampa Bay area."

So next week, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium lays this out to the city council, requesting a public vote on this for November.

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