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Florida Aquarium ~ Tampa Bay, FL

History of the Florida Aquarium
The Florida Aquarium began with the development of the Clearwater Marine Science Center (CMSC), a private, non-profit educational organization located on Clearwater Beach and incorporated in 1977. In January 1986, after consultants from New England, National and Monterey Bay aquariums were brought in to advise the CMSC Board on expansion potential, the Board of Directors incorporated The Florida Aquarium as a separate 501 c (3) organization. The newly organized Florida Aquarium Board of Directors formally committed to building a public aquarium comparable to the finest in the nation, and contracted Joseph A. Wetzel Associates of Boston to provide conceptual designs of exhibits for the new facility.

In April 1986, a market feasibility study was contracted and the architectural committee for the project moved forward to address building and space requirements. In August 1986, the board went public with plans for the project and conducted briefings with local and state officials, garnering broad-based support for the project, from the local Chambers of Commerce to then Governor Bob Graham. Before the end of 1986, a series of meetings were held between The Florida Aquarium Board and representatives of Tampa’s Harbour Island, and the Cities of Tampa, St. Petersburg and Tarpon Springs. Over the next several years, location and financing were addressed and the pieces of the site and financing puzzle fell into place. The City of Tampa agreed to issue and guarantee an $84 million bo
nd issue to be repaid by Aquarium revenues. Garrison Seaport Center emerged as a major redevelopment of downtown Tampa’s waterfront. On April 23, 1992 The Tampa City Council voted to accept the financing package, and on May 7, 1992 site work for the new Florida Aquarium began. During the next three years of construction, educational outreach programs were held throughout the community.

On March 31, 1995, the new Florida Aquarium opened its doors to the public, serving one million residents of and visitors to the Tampa Bay area and bringing a positive economic impact of $60 million to the community in its first year of operation. In October 1996, the City of Tampa acquired the Aquarium facility and assumed obligation for the bonds, making this project a public/private partnership effort. In March 1997, the American Zoo and Aquarium Association accredited The Florida Aquarium.