Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Aquarium wins in Clearwater

CLEARWATER — Voters gave the Clearwater Marine Aquarium a clear green light Tuesday to start raising more than $160 million for a new aquarium on the downtown waterfront, potentially luring legions of tourists and recasting the moribund section of Tampa Bay's third-largest city.

Final but unofficial results showed residents voted 55 percent to 45 percent to change Clearwater's charter so the city can lease the property where City Hall now stands to the aquarium.

The unofficial tally was 9,429 in favor and 7,754 opposed.

"We won by a touchdown and a field goal," former Mayor Frank Hibbard said at the supporters' victory party next to the current aquarium on Island Estates. He said voters understood that a yes vote was "giving us a chance" to raise the money for a new home for Winter the dolphin.

"Now the heavy lifting starts," said Hibbard, who led the aquarium effort.

Still unanswered: Can the Tampa Bay market support two major aquariums?

"Any effort to increase awareness of our oceans is a good thing," said Thom Stork, president and CEO of the Florida Aquarium in Tampa. "We wish them the best."

David Yates, CEO of the Clearwater facility, said the two aquariums can jointly promote aquarium-based tourism.

"If we do this right, it raises all the boats," Yates said.

Several current and former elected officials dubbed the win historic, reversing a previous pattern of defeats of waterfront development proposals.

"Voters said this city is worth living in, working in and it's worth fighting for," said Brian Aungst Jr., a key figure in the winning effort.

A largely unspoken theme during the campaign was that a thriving aquarium downtown might dilute the presence of the Church of Scientology, which has an extensive campus downtown.

CMA hopes to cobble together corporate and private donations and seek county hotel bed taxes, millions in tax-increment financing and federal tax credits.

Under a memorandum of understanding between the city and aquarium, if CMA can't obtain financing for the project by Aug. 1, 2016, the deal will dissolve.

If it goes forward, the nearly half-century-old Clearwater City Hall will be demolished. The aquarium will pay up to $7.5 million from ticket sales for construction of a new city hall, followed by annual $250,000 payments for the remainder of the lease.

Preliminary plans floated by aquarium officials show a three-story aquarium with an outdoor dolphin stadium, a multistory coral reef display, a 4-D movie theater and other exhibits and amenities.

Tom Petersen, an opponent of the proposed aquarium, said that a lawsuit he filed to overturn the referendum has a hearing before a judge later this month. He and other opponents who gathered Tuesday night in the Water's Edge condo tower next door to the proposed aquarium site plan to keep pressuring city leaders in the months ahead.

Petersen said the council needs to remember that 45 percent of voters don't like the project.

"There is an election in March," Petersen added. Two council seats are up for grabs.

"We fought the good fight," said Joe Corvino, an opposition leader. "Now the game gets real."

Voters clearly responded to the well-organized effort by aquarium leaders to obtain a yes vote. Hibbard, Yates and aquarium COO Frank Dame made dozens of presentations to neighborhood groups around the city.

In the end, voters approved the referendum in all but three of the city's 40 precincts.

Opponents had dubbed the effort a waterfront giveaway that would drain city resources for neighborhood projects. Hibbard said those charges weren't true, "and voters saw through it."

Resident Michael Sauble, 53, was conflicted until just before he cast his yes vote. His wife is a CMA volunteer, but he's a self-described fiscal conservative who worried that taxpayers might end up having to help support a new aquarium.

In the end, Sauble said he thought CMA deserved a chance.

Charlie Frago can be reached at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4159. Follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago.

CORRECTION: Thom Stork is president and CEO of the Florida Aquarium in Tampa. Earlier versions of this story appearing in print and online misspelled his name.

Aquarium wins in Clearwater 11/05/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 6, 2013 6:52am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. YouTube's Minecraft sensation Dan TDM brings live show to Clearwater

    Events

    Dan Middleton's YouTube channel has had more than 10 billion views since 2012.

    Dan Middleton's Dan TDM live tour is set to stop in Clearwater on Sunday. [Photo by Emily Herogian]
  2. Lightning's Mathieu Joseph on the rise at development camp

    Blogs

    BRANDON — The last 12 months have been quite the ride for Mathieu Joseph.

    Mathieu Joseph checks Carolina's Jake Bean during a preseason game in September in Tampa.
  3. Pinellas legislators talk governor's race, policy at delegation breakfast

    Blogs

    If anybody was expecting state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, to quit being coy and and announce his bid for the 2018 governor's race to the friendly crowd at Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce's annual legislative delegation breakfast Wednesday, they left disappointed.

  4. DOT shows alternatives to former Tampa Bay Express toll lanes

    Transportation

    TAMPA — State transportation officials are evaluating at least a half-dozen alternatives to the controversial Tampa Bay interstate plan that they will workshop with the community for the next 18 months.

    Florida Department of Transportation consultant Brad Flom explains potential alternatives to adding toll lanes to Interstate 275 during a meeting Wednesday at DOT's Tampa office. Flom presented seven diagrams, all of which swapped toll lanes for transit, such as light rail or express bus, in the I-275 corridor from downtown Tampa to Bearss Ave. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON | Times]
  5. Florida Orchestra and Tampa Bay Master Chorale scrap search for a joint conductor

    Stage

    TAMPA — After a yearlong effort, the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay and the Florida Orchestra have abandoned their search for a conductor capable of leading both groups.

    Doreen Rao conducts a concert with the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus and Orchestra in December 2010. Photo by Enid Bloch.