CLEARWATER — Winter, the most famous dolphin since Flipper, should have new digs soon, thanks to a $1 million donation to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
The gift from philanthropist Richard "Dick" Jacobson — the largest in the organization's history — was announced Thursday afternoon.
Jacobson, a longtime seasonal resident of Sand Key who recently bought a home in Belleair Shore, also donated $1 million to help build the multimillion-dollar Jacobson Culinary Arts Academy, which opened this spring at Tarpon Springs High School.
Asked why he donated the substantial sum, Jacobson quipped: "Well, first of all, they asked me."
But the 73-year-old got serious when he talked about the benefits of the aquarium.
"We do a lot of things to make the youth happy," he said. "(And) I thought it was a great opportunity to show off Clearwater, Pinellas County and the state of Florida."
The donation, which Jacobson has asked the aquarium to match, will pay for three phases of expansion in two installments of $125,000 and a third of $750,000.
The first includes a new 145,000- gallon pool for Winter and her adoptive mother, Panama. Winter, who lost her tail as a baby when she became entangled in a crab pot line, has garnered worldwide media attention since her rescue in 2005.
Phase I also includes a new sea turtle rehabilitation area with nine turtle tubs and three quarantine pools.
Those projects are already under way as the aquarium has raised nearly $96,000 toward the first $125,000, aquarium spokeswoman Jeni Hatter said. The projects should be completed by March 1 and the aquarium is soliciting donations to raise the rest of the matching funds, Hatter said.
The second $125,000 phase will include an in-ground tank for sick and injured dolphins.
Plans for the $750,000 third phase include the acquisition of a roughly 1-acre parcel of land in between the current facility and the Island Way Grill.
Island Way Grill owner Frank Chivas, an aquarium board member, said he envisions a covelike atmosphere on the waterfront where the aquarium could offer a natural habitat for marine life, maybe build an outdoor pavilion or boardwalk and possibly host dolphin shows someday.
The possibilities are endless, he said.
"Let your mind go," said Chivas, sweeping his arm across the quiet inlet.
But the first step will be building an education and research facility on the new plot of land that will expand the facility's rescue and rehabilitation capabilities.
"I'm just delighted about this," Jacobson said. "I really want the people of Pinellas County, of Clearwater, to get involved in this."
Rita Farlow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4157. Rodney Thrash can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4167.