Wednesday, January 17, 2018
News Roundup

Clearwater agreement previews amenities, finances for new waterfront aquarium

CLEARWATER — A draft agreement between the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and the city contains new details and key financial information about a $160 million aquarium proposed for Clearwater's downtown waterfront.

The memorandum of understanding, obtained by the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday, will be discussed publicly for the first time at a City Council meeting next week.

The document states that the aquarium would pay the city $150,000 a year to lease the waterfront land on Osceola Avenue where Clearwater City Hall now stands.

The payments would begin after the aquarium paid the city $7.5 million toward a new City Hall — a sum the aquarium would generate through a 50-cent surcharge on admission to the proposed three-story, 200,000-square-foot facility. The land lease would be for 60 years.

Clearwater voters will decide whether to lease the land to the aquarium in a Nov. 5 referendum to be paid for by the aquarium.

City and aquarium officials stressed that the terms of the agreement could change.

"This is sort of an agreement to agree. Nothing is binding until the voters decide," said City Attorney Pam Akin.

David Yates, the aquarium's CEO, said "both sides are very happy" with the agreement.

The city could bear significant costs if the new aquarium is built, including paying to extend Pierce Street to Drew Street and building a roundabout at the western end of Cleveland Street. The cost would be about $615,000, said Mike Quillen, city engineering director.

The city isn't obligated to make those street improvements, Yates said. "That's their call."

The city also would pay for removing asbestos from the old City Hall before the aquarium demolished it. If all three floors contain asbestos, the removal could be "quite expensive," Quillen said.

The benefits of a new aquarium would outweigh city costs, Yates said. The aquarium would expand the tax base downtown and relieve city taxpayers of paying for a new City Hall, he said.

The aquarium also would pay the city $300,000 for four tennis courts that would be destroyed.

The agreement contains some hints of what aquarium officials want to build if they get voter approval of the lease:

• On the first level of the three-level attraction: Everglades, manatee and otter exhibits, a children's area and classrooms.

• On level 2, a large touch tank; coral reef exhibit; dolphin stadium; octopus, jellyfish and sea horse exhibits; turtle tank; and 4-D theater.

• On level 3, 2-D and 4-D theaters, movie prop and coral reef exhibits, community rooms, rooftop deck and catering kitchen.

"Those things can change. It's not fully designed, but a working model," Yates said.

One detail left to iron out: where a parking garage would be built and who would operate it.

Aquarium-owned land on the south side of City Hall is "still the likely location," Yates said, but officials are looking at alternatives.

Under the agreement, the aquarium would be responsible for acquiring land for the garage, but an option is included for the city to build and operate the garage and keep the revenue.

Charlie Frago can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4159. You can follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago

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