The Clearwater Marine Aquarium broke ground today on a $50 million expansion that will create larger habitats for dolphins and more space to take in injured marine life.
The facelift includes a 400-spot garage, three times the educational space and 103,000 more square feet in overall guest space.
The new five-pool dolphin habitat will have underwater viewing and be 1.5 million gallons, more than double the size of what the dolphins have now in the 1970s-era building.
CEO David Yates said the aquarium is also exploring the possible use of adjacent waters in the Intracoastal for a natural habitat.
But the renovations did not come without a fight.
Residents in Island Estates, the residential neighborhood where the aquarium opened in 1972, pooled together more than $6,000 to fight the city's approval of the expansion.
The crux of the appeal, filed by resident Peter Kohut, alleges residents were not properly notified of the Community Development Board hearing date, giving them little time to voice concerns before the expansion was approved.
The city was only required by law to mail notice to residents within 200 feet of the property, which was done, but Kohut's lawyer, Edward Castagna, argued the reach should have been farther.
An administrative law judge rejected the appeal in May, ruling the correct development review process was followed.
Because the appellants had a litany of other concerns, aquarium leadership invited Kohut and resident Vera Guinan to an informal mediation to hash out the differences.
To appease the residents, the aquarium agreed to: change the traffic flow plan from exiting the garage through Island Way Grill instead to Windward Passage; prohibit beachgoers from using the garage; build the garage with a "townhome facade;" and scratch the Jolly Trolley stop that had been planned for the garage.