Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

St. Petersburg's Pier Aquarium plans to move by 2012

ST. PETERSBURG — As city leaders continue to grapple with how to remake the aging Pier, one of the icon's landmark tenants is making plans to move out.

The Pier Aquarium will stay downtown, and is looking at two waterfront locations, said Howard Rutherford, its president and CEO. He plans to move by Jan. 1, 2012.

Officials hope the move will be part of a larger makeover that will include a name change and an increased emphasis on research and education as a way to distinguish it from other Tampa Bay area aquariums. In fact, officials do not consider their proposed Marine Discovery Center an "aquarium" at all.

"We don't want to be an aquarium," said Sharon Handy, a senior project manager with Hands On, which designs museum exhibitions and worked with the aquarium on the Marine Discovery Center. "Nobody needs a bigger aquarium — there's plenty of those around."

It's still in the idea stage, but officials say the new facility will bear little resemblance to the current one. Their dream is for an interactive museum that showcases research being done in and around Tampa Bay.

The split from the Pier is touted as temporary, though it could become permanent if officials don't like what the city chooses for a new Pier.

The Pier Aquarium has been the Pier's main attraction since opening in 1988, but it has been struggling with worsening attendance, much like the Pier itself.

The city will spend about $1.4 million this year to keep the Pier running, which is less than in previous years but still more than the city would like. In 2012, the city will have access to $50 million set aside to remake the deteriorating Pier, though infrastructure repairs could eat up most of that money.

A task force has come up with several proposals, which range from leaving the iconic inverted pyramid, to shortening and narrowing the approach and putting a new main building on land.

The task force will meet Monday to finalize its recommendations before presenting them to the City Council on June 10.

The Pier Aquarium's favored option is the last one, which places a building at the water's edge.

"I really think a Marine Discovery Center needs to be by water," Rutherford said.

A building on land solves the aquarium's current problems with accessibility while keeping the museum close to the subject it studies. It would also provide a chance to design a building specifically for the museum.

The task force has been presented with plans for the Marine Discovery Center, but it won't be recommending occupants it would like to see in the pier, Downtown Enterprise Facilities Director Chris Ballestra said. That will be up to the City Council.

Rutherford said both locations the aquarium is considering would allow room for it to expand permanently should the city decide to go with one of the other options.

"Ultimately we'd love to come back to the Pier as the main attraction," Rutherford said.

The task force has said the Pier should keep a family focus, with entertainment options and iconic imagery that is tied in with the waterfront.

That could fit well with the Marine Discovery Center, which is aiming for family audiences much the same as the aquarium now reaches.

As planned, the Marine Discovery Center would combine the resources of 12 research agencies in the Tampa Bay area, including the University of South Florida's College of Marine Science.

The idea is to take research being done by bay area scientists and present it in an easy-to-understand way. Everything would fit into three broad themes: movement, change and behavior.

A shark exhibit would feature the research being brought in by USF scientists, while an exotic fish tank would highlight the problems with nonnative species locally. An exhibit on water use would show visitors their daily consumption compared with other museum visitors.

Such a museum would position St. Petersburg at the center of marine research and has the potential for creating a large economic impact, Rutherford said.

There aren't really any other science museums that give visitors a chance to interact with real data from research projects, Rutherford said, adding, "We're more than just an aquarium."

By the numbers

2,000 square feet: current aquarium size

1988: year the aquarium opened at the Pier

93,000: yearly visitors to the aquarium

Jan. 1, 2012: goal for opening the Marine Discovery Center in a new location

$30 million: the Marine Discovery Center's estimated cost

St. Petersburg's Pier Aquarium plans to move by 2012 05/22/10 [Last modified: Friday, May 21, 2010 6:36pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Kriseman and Baker cash races continues as campaigns officially reset


    The mayoral campaign, mostly operating in stealth mode during the two weeks of Hurricane Irma's build-up, arrival and recovery, has entered its stretch run, a compressed schedule of ten days before ballots are mailed to tens of thousands of voters in the Sunshine City.

    Mayor Rick Kriseman and former mayor Rick Baker are emerging from Hurricane Irma mode and getting back into campaign form
  2. Bucs have chance to beat Vikings in their third stadium


    Here's a cool sign that the Bucs are getting up there as an NFL franchise: If Tampa Bay can win Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, it will mark the first time the Bucs have posted road wins against the same NFL opponent in three different stadiums.

    TIMES ARCHIVES (2012) | Bucs RB Doug Martin runs during Tampa Bay's 36-17 win at the Vikings in 2012, in what was then called Mall of America Field. If Tampa Bay wins Sunday, it will mark the first time they have road wins against the same NFL opponent in three different stadiums.
  3. Memorial for Snooty the manatee, postponed because of Irma, to be held Sunday


    A public memorial to celebrate the life of 69-year-old Snooty the manatee will be held at the South Florida Museum on Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.

    Snooty , the world's most celebrated manatee, begs for another slice of apple in his pool in the Parker Manatee Aquarium at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton in 2008. Snooty was 60 then. [Times 2008]
  4. Residents wade through a flooded road after the passing of Hurricane Maria, in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, Friday, September 22, 2017. Because of the heavy rains brought by Maria, thousands of people were evacuated from Toa Baja after the municipal government opened the gates of the Rio La Plata Dam. [Associated Press]
  5. NFL commissioner, players' union angrily denounce Trump comments on national anthem


    SOMERSET, N.J. — The National Football League and its players' union on Saturday angrily denounced President Donald Trump for suggesting that owners fire players who kneel during the national …

    President Donald Trump walks off the stage after he speaks at campaign rally in support of Sen. Luther Strange, Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, in Huntsville, Ala. [Associated Press]