Can Tampa Bay keep two major aquariums afloat? - FOX 13 News

Can Tampa Bay keep two major aquariums afloat?

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

Several months ago, the executive director of the Florida Aquarium publicly expressed concerns about the Clearwater Marine Aquarium's plans for a major new facility in downtown Clearwater.

Now Thom Stork is more reserved on the same subject.

"We'll see when that happens," Stork said. "Anything in terms of ‘what is this going to do to you?' at this point, this day, is going be pure speculation and I'm not going to do that."

Earlier this month, his counterpart at CMA presented a feasibility study showing attendance mushroomed from about 200,000 annually to a stabilized 600,000 last year.

The big jump was predicted before the release of "Dolphin Tale," a major motion picture based on the true story of CMA's disabled dolphin named Winter.

"Dolphin Tale 2" will be in theaters in this fall, and the feasibility study suggests CMA's attendance could double again in a new facility.

"We don't think we cannibalized Florida Aquarium's attendance at all," CMA Executive Director David Yates said.

"We've had record years," Stork agreed. "We've had record years since ‘Dolphin Tale' came out."

Stork said the Florida Aquarium makes adjustments whenever any of the major central Florida attractions makes a big change, and will do so whenever CMA finalizes its expansion plans.

The two aquariums also have different missions.

"We do research. We do education," Stork said.

Over in Clearwater Yates said "We're an aquarium, we're also a marine life rescue center."

All of the creatures visitors see at CMA -- including Winter -- are rescues that cannot be released back into wild.

The two aquariums are also 22 miles apart, and in different counties separated by a very large bay. Nonetheless, it is possible that to some degree they share an audience. Over the summer, a "city pass" will offer admissions to Busch Gardens, the Lowry Park Zoo, The Florida Aquarium and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

"It's going be a test," Stork told FOX 13 News. "This is going to be a good test to see how big that market is that wants to go to both of these aquariums."

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