The area surrounding Tampa's downtown port has come a long way from its days as La Draga, or "the dregs." And for that, the city can thank a pioneer, the Florida Aquarium. The facility's grand opening 16 years ago helped to launch a renaissance along the waterfront. And now it's poised to do it again.
The aquarium announced last week that fertilizer giant Mosaic has committed $2.5 million toward a new capital campaign. The gift is a huge step forward in a $15 million expansion that will add 50,000 square feet of much-needed exhibit, classroom and meeting space. The extra room will allow the aquarium to serve more students and further its mission to educate visitors about the importance and complexity of marine life. The expansion will also present the aquarium with new opportunities to build its bottom line, protecting a wonderful asset for tourists and residents alike to enjoy for many years ahead.
With its contribution, Mosaic has made a bold statement about the importance of maintaining a presence in civic life despite the uncertainty of this struggling economy. That should inspire other industry leaders to invest long-term in this community. It also should serve as a reminder to local officials that cities must move forward if they hope to grow.
The aquarium had a tough start, but the redevelopment it spawned has breathed life and new character into the so-called channel district. The new cruise ship terminals, streetcar, retail and entertainment complex, parks, history center and sports and concert venue makes the old La Draga the place to be. It is good to see the aquarium get a fresh show of confidence and another opportunity to move the waterfront forward again.