1. Business

Mote Marine announces plans for new $130 million aquarium in Sarasota

SARASOTA — Officials with the Mote Marine Laboratory on Thursday announced plans for a new $130 million aquarium to be located near Interstate 75 in Sarasota County.

The new center, to be called the Mote Science Education Aquarium, will be built on five acres of county-owned land in Nathan Benderson Park, near the burgeoning area just south of University Parkway off I-75, according to a news release.

Construction on the new site is targeted to begin in 2019, according to the release.

The project is being bankrolled by a fundraising effort called Oceans for All: Improving Access to Marine Science & Technology, according to the release. As of Thursday, the project has received 20 percent of its funding.

Mote plans to build a new Aquarium on mainland Sarasota County! The new Mote Science Education Aquarium will more than double the size of the current Aquarium, double education program participation & allow science to advance at the Lab on City Island!

"At Mote Science Education Aquarium, science is the attraction, as it is the heart of our mission," Michael P. Crosby said, aquarium president and CEO, said in a statement. "This spectacular new facility and campus will embody our vision of Oceans for All, doubling the number of visitors whose lives are enriched by marine science each year, and providing no-cost opportunities for all schools to utilize specialized teaching labs to ensure that every child has the opportunity for hands-on marine science and technology experiences.

At 110,000 square feet, the new site will more than double Mote's existing location at 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway. It also will contain 1 million gallons of exhibit water, allowing for more room to feature marine life and displays while expanding its capacity for its research and education programs.

"Beyond 2020, I expect that Mote Marine Laboratory will become the catalyst for a new 'Silicon Valley' of marine science and technology in Southwest Florida, leading to more than just improved conservation and sustainable use of our oceans," Crosby said. "The innovations and intellectual property generated by Mote and a growing marine science and technology sector will be the fuel for an expansion of Florida's blue economy, with impacts felt well beyond our state."

Officials estimate the new center will produce more than 260 jobs and provide an annual economic impact of $28 million.

"Mote has significantly increased its research capabilities over the past few years," said Robert Essner, chairman of Mote's Board of Trustees. "Our efforts to answer the questions that are vital to protecting our oceans and the creatures who live there are growing every year, as is our ability to communicate answers to the scientific community and to people everywhere.

"We are now taking the next and biggest step in becoming a truly world-class marine research laboratory. Relocating our aquarium will give us the space needed to expand and upgrade our research labs. Our new aquarium, when completed, will be a spectacular venue for our educational endeavors and will create an incredible regional visitor attraction."