/Mississippi Aquarium breaks ground in Gulfport

Mississippi Aquarium breaks ground in Gulfport

Friday’s groundbreaking ceremony at the Mississippi Aquarium was the latest in a four-year-old process. Plans were first created for the project in 2005. It will be located on 5.8 acres in Gulfport, and will feature more than 80,000 square foot of exhibits. Friday’s outdoor ceremony was held at 15th Street and 21st Avenue. Gov. Phil Bryant, Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes, and other city-state and federal representatives, as well as U.S. Congressman Steven Palazzo. Bryant, who is a long-time supporter for the aquarium, spoke out about the benefits of Mississippi’s tourism industry and revenue growth through legacy projects such as the aquarium and other tourist attractions in the state. The GRAMMY Museum Mississippi and King Museum in Indianola are two examples of legacy projects that Bryant supports. The Mississippi Aquarium planning began in late 2014. It is expected that the structure will open in late 2019 or early 2020. Bryant approved a revenue bond bill that authorized $12 million funding for the Mississippi Development Authority. Jim Beaugez, MDA’s senior public relations specialist, stated that the MDA is not responsible for managing the project. In 2016, the governor was present at the unveiling of the aquarium’s design by the city to the public. Bryant stated Friday that this was a huge opportunity for all of us. “… There will be education opportunities, to ensure we provide the research we need to protect our land and water. According to the aquarium’s website, it is expected that 487,000 people will visit each year and bring in $340 millions annually for the Gulfport area. Friday’s event saw about 100 people attend. It marked the beginning of vertical construction of the aquarium and the official unveiling of aquarium renderings to public. The Mississippi Aquarium will consist of four buildings with an outdoor exhibit at the center. According to the aquarium website, aquarium exhibits will include animals like river fish, shorebirds, and alligators. The aquarium will include over 50 species of non-toxic plants. The aquarium’s design and construction budget, including animal costs, startup costs and land costs, is estimated at $93 million. Officials from the aquarium said that Hurricane Katrina decimated Gulfport’s private Marine Life aquarium. Hewes stated that the majority of funding for the project comes from state, city, and BP funds. He stated that the city has committed more than $30 million to the project. The state has agreed to issue bonds of $24.5 million and $17.5 million from BP oil-catastrophe funds. Q&A@KendraAblaza – How would you describe your experience working with Gov. @PhilBryantMS and #msleg Did they immediately see the importance and value of the Mississippi Aquarium? Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes: pic.twitter.com/YX765Y8JfT — Sereena Henderson (@SereenaOnSocial) May 11, 2018 “Gov. Bryant has been supportive of this project since the beginning, and he is looking for legacy projects that can have a lasting effect,” Hewes stated. “We requested a total amount of $40 million. We received $24.5 million. We believe that that is a fair ask and we are confident that they will deliver.” Construction was originally estimated to begin in spring 2017. The plan called for the aquarium’s opening to the public in 2019. It would be open to the public in 2019 and stocked with animals in fall 2018. Bids were not accepted until October 2017. Hewes stated that “with the types of investments we’re receiving from the BP settlement and the state, we have to get it right.” According to a Sun Herald report, David Kimmel, the president and CEO at the Mississippi Aquarium, believes the aquarium will be self-sustaining and debt-free when it opens. The aquarium is more than just funding environmental restoration along the coast, he said. Kimmel stated, “You need to show people how important (environmental rehabilitation) is.” You have to demonstrate to them how their trash is affecting the environment. As aquarium partners, the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) and Mississippi State University (MSU) will be involved. USM will be conducting saltwater research and education. Mississippi State will offer veterinary services and educational opportunities. According to the Mississippi Tourism Association, Mississippi saw 23 million visitors in 2016 and generated $6.3 billion in revenues. According to the association, tourism and travel are the fourth largest private sector employer in Mississippi. Kimmel also praised additional development in Gulfport, including a Hyatt Place Hotel, Centennial Plaza, and a new restaurant Patio 44.