An independent feasibility study says a new aquarium in downtown Clearwater would attract more than 1.2 million visitors a year and generate more than $5 million a year in profits for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
The executive summary of the study was released simultaneously Friday morning to the media and Clearwater city officials with an unusual stake in the project: The aquarium would be constructed on a waterfront bluff now occupied by Clearwater City Hall, with the city receiving $7.5 million to build a new city hall elsewhere.
That is just one of the unusual aspects of the project.
"There's really nothing like CMA in the sense we're not a traditional aquarium," CMA's David Yates explained. "We're an aquarium, we're also a marine life rescue center, but also we have the unique aspects of this global media going out with movies and what aquarium has had that happen? Well, nobody has."
Yates was referring to Dolphin Tale, a 2012 motion picture featuring "Winter," a rescued dolphin trained to swim with a prosthetic tail.
Winter and CMA's other residents could not survive in the wild. They would be moved into the new 203,000 square foot aquarium, which would be open to the public, and access to the existing facility would limited.
"Once this becomes a full-time hospital, the entire building, easily we can quadruple the number of animals we can take care of," Yates said, adding motion picture revenues have already doubled CMA's rescue and rehabilitation capacity.
Another boost is expected later this year when Dolphin Tale 2 is released, and Yates said a third motion picture and a television show are also possible.
The feasibility study minimized those potential impacts. "What gives us a lot of comfort is the most conservative study again tells us we're going to be in great shape, and that's a key message for us," Yates said.
"The spigot is on. We're spending money," chief CMA fundraiser Frank Hibbard said. "We hope to have plans in the next four months."
Those will be design drawings needed before serious fundraising begins.
"We want "the Smith's" to be able to hang their name on the Dolphin stadium, and they need to know exactly what that's going to look like," Hibbard said.
The former Clearwater mayor also said an experienced project manager has been hired, and an architect should be under contract within a couple of weeks.
The feasibility study used the original projected cost of $160 million, but several months ago CMA officials told FOX 13 News the real cost will be under $100 million. A final figure awaits construction drawings, expected to be finalized toward the end of this year.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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