MADEIRA BEACH — Construction will finally begin in May on the Secrets of the Sea aquarium at John's Pass Village. If its aggressive timetable stays on course, the new and much improved home of the St. Petersburg Pier Aquarium will open Nov. 12.
The facility had hoped to start welcoming an estimated 250,000 annual visitors on Dec. 12 of last year. But financing setbacks delayed the "12-12-12" opening to "11-12-13."
"There will be a yeoman's effort on everyone's part to make sure this happens for us," said Lari Johnson, chairwoman of the Secrets of the Seas project. "Everyone understands the urgency to get the attraction open because it has taken longer than we anticipated to get our financing."
The buildout of the aquarium in existing space at John's Pass Village will cost $4 million.
The Pier Aquarium will close to the public May 31, as will the other remaining businesses at the Pier. Marine life, from tarpon to coral to sea horses, will be stored at tanks in Clearwater that are not open to the public. Since Secrets of the Seas will not be generating income for six months, getting the new facility open before the holidays and the start of the high tourism season is crucial.
"We're all very anxious to get it open but we know it has to be perfect," Johnson said. "We have one opportunity to really, really wow the public. We are on an aggressive schedule but we are not going to reduce the quality."
The 13,500-square-foot facility is going into space that has never been occupied at John's Pass Village, at Gulf Boulevard and 129th Avenue. Belleair-based Biltmore Construction and St. Petersburg's Harvard Jolly architects are working on the interior, which will include 13 aquarium environments and 14 interactive exhibits. Financing comes from a loan with C1 Bank and funds raised in a capital campaign by the aquarium.
Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8785.