Voters approve Clearwater Marine Aquarium referendum - FOX 13 News

Voters approve Clearwater Marine Aquarium referendum

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CLEARWATER (FOX 13) -

Pinellas County's famous porpoise is one step closer to finding a new home. Voters in Clearwater have approved funding for an expansion of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which is home to Winter the dolphin.

The referendum passed with 54.9 percent of voters saying "yes" and 45.1 percent saying "no." The CMA says after the movie Dolphin Tale's overnight success, their tiny facility is overwhelming with tourists from around the world.

They're now looking to expand, and they have their eye on a certain piece of land. The aquarium would be built on the site of the current Clearwater City Hall, which would be torn down.

The vote gives approval to a deal where the aquarium will pay interest on the $7.5 million it plans to pay the city. That would cover the costs of building a new city hall, since the present one would be torn down.

When that building is paid off, the aquarium will pay $250,000 a year to the city. The lease will last for 60 years. Clearwater Marine Aquarium CEO David Yates says the referendum passing was a huge first step for the CMA and the city.

"The whole community's been great to us. One of our jobs is to give back any way we can; one way we can give back is to keep driving the tourism impact we're doing right now," Yates said. "This will drive more people downtown, hopefully reinvigorate downtown development. The city's been a great partner for many, many years and we expect to continue that."

Critics of the plan say it's simply too risky.

"If you look nationally, things like this, whether they're aquariums or stadiums or whatever, when they fail, where do they go for help? They go to the local taxpayers. You can have a memorandum of understanding that says they won't, but that and a dollar will get you coffee if this thing fails. And that's our concern," said Tom Petersen of the political action committee Friends of Clearwater.

Under the memorandum with the city, the CMA must independently raise the $160.5 million dollars necessary to build the new aquarium by August 2016, or the deal dissolves.

Yates says luckily, they have quite the promotion filming currently. Taping of the movie's sequel, Dolphin Tale 2, is set to wrap in January 2014.

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