Mote to Relocate Aquarium at NBP

Culture

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY FEB 9, 2018

A new aquarium will soon stand in University Park and research facilities will expand at Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium’s current home on City Island in Sarasota. Dr. Michael Crosby, Mote’s CEO, announced plans for the $100-million aquarium at an invitation-only event Thursday morning at Nathan Benderson Park, where Mote plans to lease five to seven acres to house a new marine research campus.

"We hope you, all leaders in this community, are supportive friends and members, and will help us together to create this vision of oceans for all," Crosby said. The hard cost for the Mote Science Education Aquarium (SEA) will be about $100 million, Crosby says, with another $20 to $30 million in "soft costs" in addition.

In an interview with SRQ later in the afternoon, Crosby noted that the new aquarium also makes room for scientists to take over the existing aquarium in the city. In fact, he’s giddy about it. “I’m drooling over this opportunity,” he says, noting that with existing seawater plumbing and numerous over-sized tanks, the City Island aquarium could become a premier research facility the envy of scientists around the world. Already, Mote has to turn away scientists who want to do sabbaticals or use research grants at the Sarasota facilities; the last two scientists Mote took in went to Key West facilities because of lack of space. 

Mote’s long-term plans call for bringing 10 more PhD-holding scientists on board, along with probably 100 more people in staff support positions, and having the chance to convert the Sarasota aquarium into a lab will allow that. Certainly, Crosby says, new wings and renovations will take place, all of which will only make the research campus more attractive. Ultimately, he’d like to bring academics, entrepreneurs and respected scientists together to create a “Silicon Valley of marine science.” “That vision is really driving us to say let’s move the aquarium off the island,” he says.

As for the new facility? Renderings by CambridgeSeven show a landmark structure will soon adorn the shores at Nathan Benderson Park. Mote officials hope to break ground in 2019 and have a ribbon-cutting by late 2021 for a 110,000-square-foot facility holding 1 million gallons of water, a much larger aquarium space than Mote runs now. A fundraising campaign, officially launched Thursday, already has covered more than 20 percent of costs, but Mote will also discuss partnerships with both Sarasota and Manatee counties, the state and local school districts to fund what will be known as the Mote Science Education Aquarium (SEA). Crosby announced the organization will pursue corporate sponsorships as well. The aquarium is expected to draw more than 700,000 visitors through its doors in its first year of operation, and to have more than 600,000 visitors a year after that. Economic studies anticipate a $28-million annual economic impact.

Of course the announcement also puts down speculation of other places Mote might relocate its aquarium. Crosby says about five sites were considered; officials a couple years ago went to Sarasota City Commissioners about the prospect of a Bayfront location. Crosby says Mote remains a committed partner with The Bay visioning process.

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