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Push for Port Canaveral aquarium moves forward

Push for Port Canaveral aquarium moves forward
This handout image from theaquariumproject.org is tied to a planned aquarium and conservation center proposed for a site on the Indian River Lagoon in Port Canaveral. (The Aquarium Project / Handout)

An aquarium at Port Canaveral has been in the works for several years, but now the Brevard Zoo has selected a design firm to knock out a preliminary design.

HHCP Architects out of Orlando, which has worked on projects including Shamu Stadium at SeaWorld Orlando, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies and the American Adventure Pavilion at Disney’s Epcot, will come up with an initial design and estimated cost to be presented to Zoo officials this fall.

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“Of all the agencies that responded to our request for proposals, HHCP demonstrated the strongest understanding of what we’re trying to build: a world-class, one-of-a-kind facility celebrating the remarkable biodiversity and innovative spirit that define Florida’s Space Coast,” said Brevard Zoo Executive Director Keith Winsten.

The Brevard Zoo is about 20 minutes down the road from the proposed site, and has been spearheading the drive to get the project in place.

The proposed aquarium and conservation center would be located on Port Canaveral property on the Indian River Lagoon. In 2018, initial estimates discussed at a Canaveral Port Authority meeting had at least a $70 million price tag.

“We’re envisioning experiences that amaze and inspire,” added Mike Chatham, HHCP’s president and director of design. “Our goals are to foster a newfound appreciation for aquatic ecosystems and model our capacity for positive environmental change.”

That includes hands-on experiences, boardwalk and kayak access to the lagoon, an outdoor water play area, restaurant and gift shop, research facilities and meeting and event space.

Earlier timeline estimates didn’t see and ground being broken until at least 2020. To move forward, the design needs to be approved by the Brevard County Commission as well as the Canaveral Port Authority Board of Commissioners, while Brevard Zoo officials seek funding from the public, county tourism tax funds and other state grants. An anonymous donor has already promised $14 million, according to zoo officials.

Winsten said the center is projected to draw 500,000 visitors a year and support nearly 1,000 jobs for annual economic impact of $85.5 million.

“There really is no typical aquarium on the I-95 corridor south of Charleston,” he said at a 2018 Port Authority meeting.

To get there, though, Winsten said the public needs to be more informed.

“We really need an informed, engaged citizenry to get any of this done,” he said. “We think it’s great for Indian River Lagoon conservation, great for tourism and jobs.”

The zoo has set up a website at www.theaquariumproject.org along with social media accounts to support the drive to build the attraction.

“It literally is the gateway to Brevard County,” Winsten said. “These are our river systems. This is how we treat them. This is how we want you to treat them while you’re here.”

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