April 21, 2021

Texas State Aquarium announces $50 million expansion

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web_aquarium_announce01_6517398_ver1.0_640_480By Krista M. Torralva From Caller Times Corpus Christie

CORPUS CHRISTI – Experiencing the clear waters of the Caribbean will become a lot easier in Corpus Christi — so easy, a cruise ship isn’t necessary.

Texas State Aquarium officials announced Wednesday that the aquarium will nearly double its size adding a $50 million exhibit called Caribbean Journey.

The exhibit will make visitors feel like they are walking through a tropical forest complete with free-flying birds soaring overhead and recreated coastal environments, aquarium Chief Executive Officer Tom Schmid said.

The aquarium will break ground in November and officials expect to open in early 2017. They called it the most significant development in the aquarium’s history.

“This is the biggest thing we’ve done since we opened. We’re essentially building another aquarium,” Schmid said.

The aquarium secured $25 million as of May 21. The nonprofit managed to keep the project relatively secret while fundraising statewide the past two years. Donations have come from corporations and foundations, including a $3 million gift from H-E-B.

The final product will wow visitors, Schmid said, when they journey through an upper forest area down to lowland tropical forests, the coastal environments and to the Caribbean Sea, Schmid said. The building will showcase tropical Caribbean fishes, birds, reptiles and sharks.

“What we had been hearing from our guests over the past 10 years was they like what we have now, but they want to see more exhibits, particularly things about sharks. People are still, ever since ‘Jaws,’ really fascinated with sharks,” Schmid said.

Named one of the top 20 aquariums nationwide last year by TravelChannel.com, the Texas State Aquarium boasts an economic impact of $43 million annually. There were 224 accredited zoos and aquariums as of March 2014, according to Association of Zoos and Aquariums which combines both types of attractions.

Officials say the expansion will increase the economic impact by about 60 percent and elevate the aquarium to “one of the premiere aquariums in the nation.”

The addition will have a huge impact on Corpus Christi and the state, said Deneece Squires, Board of Trustees chairwoman, citing the forecasted economic impact of about $70 million annually.

“I think Corpus Christi is going to be a tourist destination more so than we are already,” Squires said.

Tourism provided $1.2 billion for the local economy in 2013, said Ashley Higson communications director for the Corpus Christi Convention and Visitors Bureau. Though the bureau has not yet projected an economic impact to include the expansion, Higson said officials expect the addition will increase tourism year-round.

“One of the goals that we have at CVB is to bring Corpus Christi out of a seasonal destination and into more of a year-round destination,” Higgs said. “So the more things to do year-round, the better.”

Officials expect the expansion to create 41 new full-time jobs. The admission cost will rise, Schmid said, but it is undetermined by how much.

Officials plan to survey focus groups made up of visitors beginning this summer to determine what price range most find acceptable, Schmid said.

The dolphins will be moved during the initial phases of construction as a precautionary measure, Schmid said. They will likely be moved in November or December to another aquarium, he said, though officials are not sure for how long.

While they are gone, the pool will be resurfaced and improvements to the Dolphin Bay Exhibit will be made, Schmid said.

Caribbean Journey has been more than 25 years in the making. Original board members envisioned the aquarium would open in phases and Caribbean Journey was a part of the master plan created in 1987. The first phase was the Gulf of Mexico exhibit building when the aquarium opened in 1990. The second was Dolphin Bay in 2003. Caribbean Journey is the final phase in the master plan.

“There are so many connections between the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea so we thought that was a really compelling story,” Schmid said.

The aquarium works with educational partners including the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies and University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas. Work from the scientist partners will be showcased in the new exhibit, Schmid said.

A group of scientists from the Harte Research Institute and officials with the aquarium traveled to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere to study the largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean. Scientists recommended characteristics of the Caribbean to include in the aquarium to show the connection between the sea and the Gulf of Mexico, said Larry McKinney, executive director for Harte Research Institute.

“Their interpretation will show the Gulf of Mexico is not isolated. It’s connected to the rest of the world and connected through the Caribbean,” McKinney said.

For example, sharks in the Caribbean eat stingrays, which eat oyster shells. “Too many stingrays destroy our oyster reefs,” McKinney said.

For more on this story go to: http://www.caller.com/news/local/texas-state-aquarium-announces-50-million-expansion_71967601

 

 

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