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Secrets of the Sea Aquarium could be coming to St. Pete Port next Spring

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

St. Pete City Council voted unanimously in support of a new aquarium exhibit at the St. Pete Port.

The group gave a presentation during council’s meeting Thursday laying out plans for the aquarium that will be named Secrets of the Sea.

It will feature 11 exhibits that are already funded and some completed. There will also be films shown in a 3D theater. Kids can get up close and personal with sea life in an interactive touch tank and visitors can even play a role in funding new marine research.

Students conducting marine science research are expected to display their projects at the aquarium. Visitors can vote on their favorite and winners will receive funding to complete the research. The catch: when they’re done the projects have to come back to Secrets of the Sea.

The aquarium will be run by the same group that operated the aquarium on the second floor of the Pier. After the Pier closed in 2013 they planned to move to John’s Pass, but their lease was canceled during a financial takeover of the property.

The agreement with the City would last three years with the option to expand to five years. The city is expected to kick in about $200,000 for renovations to the Port to accommodate the new aquarium. Another $400,000 is needed to complete the project, which isn’t expected to be a problem.

Aquarium officials hope the location could attract large vessels to the port. The aquarium could then give tours to drive even better revenue.

There was some mention of wanting to eventually move to the downtown waterfront, but officials didn’t specifically say if they meant moving back into a new Pier.

Council was overwhelmingly supportive.

“It’s about time,” said council member Bill Dudley. “This is absolutely the best thing.”

He added he doubts the aquarium will move from the port once it sets up shop and even ventured to say the city may help incentivize them staying there.

However, there was some apprehension. Council member Steve Kornell questioned whether the planned touch tank was a good idea.

“I’m concerned that we don’t mistreat any animals, but I’m also concerned from a business perspective, it’s become a really bad idea to do that,” he said. “Sea World just took a huge hit.”

The aquarium’s main feature would be “Science on a Sphere,” where images would be projected on a 3D projector showing global ocean currents, weather patterns and current research efforts like those underway studying the effects of the BP oil spill.

Construction on the space is expected to begin in October. From there exhibits would begin moving in early January with a Grand Opening in the Spring of 2016 after the fish get acclimated to their new homes.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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