Gulfport city leaders say a new aquarium could bring half a million visitors to the Gulf Coast every year. MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports, the design is part of a planned $120 million development in downtown Gulfport.
The aquarium alone is expected to cost $80 million , says Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes. The city unveiled the design concepts at a ceremony Friday. Hewes says they are looking for a campus-type approach.
"With our climate it's perfect, because you can go to one area, called Giants of the Deep," he says. "Then you can go the largest facility which has the aquarium with a lot of acrylic. There's going to be a transparent tube that people can go through. There's going to be a riverine exchibt with everything from otters to alligators. And there's going to be an aviary that's going to showcase our shorebirds."
Hewes says the city paid $14 million dollars for the land, and the project has also received $24 million from the legislature and $17 million in BP funds.
There has been a push by some to use BP funds primarily to restore the environmental damage caused by the 2010 oil spill. But Governor Phil Bryant says, he considers the project part of restoration.
"After that spill, I told BP that we've got to know 80 years from now what the effects might be, so part of this will be research and development for the Gulf," he says. "To make sure that we're not only protecting what's there, but growing what's there. I want to reach a million sacks of oysters a year, and part of that research is going to be right here, with Mississippi State taking care of the animals and Southern Miss helping us do that research and development for the ocean."
Mayor Billy Hewes says the city also has a partnership with the Coast Transit Authority for the project.
“They are working to get a pedestrian tramway across Highway 90 and blend it into the green space of Jones Park and the harbor itself," he says. "We also have an RFP in the streets right now for a hotel to go adjacent to it. So we think probably overall we’re looking at a $120 million development.”
The city hopes to break ground at this time next year and open the aquarium in 2019.
More images of the proposed aquarium design:
City of Gulfport