It's Good to see a truce called between the Florida Aquarium in Tampa and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. The Clearwater aquarium, home to Winter, star of the film Dolphin Tale, is seeking voter approval for an ambitious new $160 million facility where Clearwater City Hall now sits. But carping between Tampa and Clearwater over the viability of the proposed aquarium didn't help either side of Tampa Bay. An announcement this month that the two aquariums have agreed to work together on marketing, branding and ticket discount programs is an encouraging step that should benefit the tourism industries of both communities. The dolphin detente also offers hope that Hillsborough and Pinellas officials can find more common ground to enhance economic growth.
Dolphin Tale, which tells the story of Winter's prosthetic tail fin and has grossed $82 million worldwide, helped the small Clearwater Marine Aquarium draw about 750,000 visitors last year, some 100,000 more than Tampa's Florida Aquarium. That prompted the Clearwater aquarium to propose a new facility that officials boldly predict will draw 2.5 million annual visitors. That seemed a bit fishy. Florida Aquarium officials, understandably anxious at the prospect of aquarium overload in the regional tourism market, urged caution.
Former Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard, who sits on the Clearwater Marine Aquarium board, notes the new aquarium would break even at 950,000 visitors. But before Winter can move into a new home, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium's management has a number of hoops to leap through, including raising enough pledges of financial support to demonstrate its fundraising viability. The Clearwater aquarium must also make a compelling case that it deserves a portion of Pinellas County's resort tax money, which will also be needed to help finance any new baseball stadium in the county for the Tampa Bay Rays. Finally, voters must approve a November referendum to lease the City Hall property for a new aquarium.
But before the voters have their say, the collaborative marketing agreement between the Florida Aquarium and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which includes the smaller Secrets of the Sea aquarium in development at John's Pass Village in Madeira Beach, is a good first step to forge regional cooperation and avoid the squabbles that wouldn't be good for anyone.