Aquarium proposal met with mixed reactions - FOX 13 News

Aquarium proposal met with mixed reactions

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CLEARWATER (FOX 13) -

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium's request to build a new $160 million facility in downtown Clearwater requires a referendum. Less than 24 hours after the request was revealed, it has been greeted by signs of strong support and evidence of civic skepticism.

"Certainly over the past several weeks since we've been privy to some of this information, our board has been very actively looking at their options to be able to support this," Greater Clearwater Chamber of Commerce president Bob Clifford said.

Clifford said he thought he had the necessary executive board votes "...to form a PAC -- a political action committee -- to advocate for the proposal."

He added the PAC paperwork could be filed as early as Monday.

However, earlier this week, the headline in the newsletter of the Downtown Clearwater Neighborhood Association proclaimed "Aquarium's current downtown numbers found to be accurate but misleading."

That was referring to a temporary CMA attraction housed in Harborview. Association president Jack Mortimer said residents could not believe the reported 300,000 people visited Harborview in 2012 because few nearby businesses have benefited.

So volunteers counted attendees on a couple of days last month. On Presidents Day they tallied 1,375 Harborview guests, only four of whom ventured further into downtown Clearwater. "To be blunt, the Aquarium, the City, and downtown groups have been celebrating 300,000 visitors while downtown merchants struggle to survive" the newsletter article says.

Reached by telephone Friday, Mortimer said CMA needs to improve its current contribution to the downtown economy before expecting public support for a future downtown facility. He added a dialogue has started between downtown residents and one of CMA's executives.

Downtown Development Board president David Albritton agreed "[CMA] does bring the people down, but what we haven't figured out is how to get them once they go through the Harborview, to continue on down the street."

Albritton said his group is also looking for new ways to steer tourists to other downtown business. That said, Albritton predicted his board will support the new aquarium.

The critical newsletter article also starts with this "Disclaimer: We are not anti-Aquarium or anti-Winter. Not even a bit!"

CMA makes its formal presentation to the Clearwater City Council next week, including its request for a public referendum this November. The new downtown facility would house Winter, the dolphin featured in a motion picture, and other rescued animals unfit for re-release into the wild.

CMA's current facility on nearby Island Estates would continue to house wildlife rescue and rehabilitation activities.

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