The Brevard Zoo is ranked among the best in the country, and now it wants to up the ante even more. The zoo is moving ahead with plans for an aquarium complex at Port Canaveral. The 14-acre campus will have both inside and outside exhibits.
A $100 million fundraising campaign is underway. According to Keith Winsten, the zoo executive director, the campaign starts out with about $32 million already in the bank, much of it from a single unnamed donor. If all goes as planned, construction will start in 2024 and the aquarium will open in 2027.
Winsten says the aquarium will have a local flavor, based on the Indian River Lagoon and St. Johns River. Some exhibits will show dolphins and manatees in their natural environment.
The aquarium lost about a year of momentum due to the pandemic but plans are moving full steam ahead. According to Winsten, COVID-19 also changed some of the design. Originally the aquarium was to be housed in one large building. The new design has 10 buildings and lots of walkable space for outside exhibits.
Architectural renderings show a modern design with spacious indoor exhibits. The outdoor areas include water walkways and even water play areas for youngsters.
According to an agreement with the Canaveral Port Authority, the port will contribute $3.5 million toward the design work. The zoo is also asking the state to chip in $1.5 million toward the project.
The site is along the Banana River, just west of A1A and the Exploration Tower at the port. A road extension into the aquarium will be necessary on George King Boulevard, which will be paid for by the port.
The aquarium will pay rent to the port on the property, starting at $250,000 and going up 2.5% a year, plus additional rent pegged to admission fees. Winsten expects that to cap out around $350,000 a year, based on estimated annual attendance of 477,000 people. The lease on the site runs for 31 years.
The aquarium will also donate $1 from each ticket sale to the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, which is actively involved in the efforts to clean up the lagoon waters.
Looking far in advance, the zoo is already soliciting ideas and recommendations from local community leaders on how to market the aquarium to local residents and visitors. Some of that was already started before COVID-19. It is expected to pick back up as the project moves along.
Fred Mays is a freelance writer and photographer who resides in Satellite Beach. He is a retired television journalist, and active on media issues with the Brevard Indian River Lagoon Coalition. His blog is www.floridaunplugged.net.