Friday, June 22, 2018
Business

Former Pier Aquarium loses new home

MADEIRA BEACH — The former Pier Aquarium, which was slated to open late this year in John's Pass Village as Secrets of the Sea Marine Exploration Center and Aquarium, has lost its lease. It is looking for new locations but the delay in opening will hurt the organization, which is storing its marine life in various tanks in the area.

AEGON USA Realty Associates acquired John's Pass Village in a bankruptcy settlement a year ago. It cited the length of time it has taken the aquarium to secure a construction loan and get started on its build-out of the existing space as part of the reason it's canceling the plan, according to a statement released by Secrets of the Sea on Monday night.

"The aquarium's board of directors continues to evaluate options for the organization's future, which includes searching for new locations, providing educational programs and promoting cutting-edge research and technology," the statement said.

Aquarium officials could not be reached for comment.

"The city is deeply saddened by the news," said Shane Crawford, Madeira Beach city manager. "The projection of 250,000 visitors to the aquarium on an annual basis would have been a definite boost to the city."

Crawford said the former Police Department building for the city of St. Pete Beach is being considered as a potential site.

After 24 years at the Pier, the aquarium closed May 31 along with all the other tenants.

It moved a limited amount of fish, including a small shark, to an 1,100-gallon tank at the USF St. Petersburg University Student Center. The majority of sea life, from tarpon to coral to sea horses, are stored in tanks that aren't open to the public in Clearwater.

Secrets of the Seas had originally planned to open Dec. 12 of last year but financing setbacks delayed the "12-12-12" opening to "11-12-13." In April, aquarium chairwoman Lari Johnson said it was urgent to open before the tourist season to help compensate for the six-month gap between the Pier and John's Pass Village.

To date, it has spent more than $500,000 on the project and planned to invest $4 million to improve the John's Pass Village property into a 13,500-square-foot marine attraction.

AEGON was going to work as both landlord and potential guarantor of the attraction's construction loan. C1 Bank had agreed to underwrite the loan and Enterprise Florida was set to be the second loan guarantor. These parties involved in the loan package have been trying to resolve additional loan conditions since May, according to the aquarium's statement.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Katherine Snow Smith can be contacted at ks[email protected] or (727) 893-8785.

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