Mote plans aquarium at rowing park along I-75

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Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium’s President & CEO, Dr. Michael P. Crosby, made the announcement on Friday that Mote will build a new Aquarium on mainland Sarasota County next to University Town Center on 5 acres of county-owned land within Nathan Benderson Park.

Mote officials are clear that the existing facility will continue to house science and research operations and will in fact expand that aspect as space used by the current aquarium is vacated.

The new Mote Science Education Aquarium will be designed and located strategically to serve a greater cross-section of residents and visitors in Florida, and enhance ocean literacy opportunities and impacts for all according to Mote. Mote leaders have had preliminary discussions with appropriate officials from Sarasota County to understand the potential opportunities for use of approximately 5 acres of county-owned land within Nathan Benderson Park, adjacent to Interstate 75. The interstate’s intersection with University Parkway hosts an average 60,000 drivers on both sides daily, allowing an expected average of 43 million drivers to view Mote’s new facility each year.

Not everyone is on board yet. Sarasota City Commissioner Hagen Brody immediately responded to the news in a memo to City Manager Tom Barwin: “This is unacceptable. I immediately want to know:

• How long we, the taxpayers of the City of Sarasota, have subsidized the waterfront facility that Mote has used to grow and develop on city owned property leased at $1 per year.

• The history with minutes of any prior Commission level discussions regarding this expansion.

• All efforts and communications to keep them in the City of Sarasota on the part of staff and why this announcement is a surprise as a city commissioner,” wrote Brody.

Brody added that he wants the issue on the very next agenda.

“Mote Marine has done so much for the health of our bay and waterways and built an incredible reputation, program, and body of work with enormous help from the City of Sarasota tax payers.  That said it’s incomprehensible when it comes time to invest in a facility that will create massive positive economic impact to its surrounding, it’s being done outside of the City of Sarasota. Put this on the agenda for the next city commission meeting.”

Mote representatives told Longboat Key News/Sarasota City News, that in no way is Mote planning to abandon its presence on City Island. In fact, they maintain that many of the programs including Sea Turtle rescues, shark research, Red Tide research and an increased number of scientists on City Island is the plan.

With Mote’s Feb. 8 announcement of the overall concept and goals for Mote Science Education Aquarium, Mote is now planning to initiate a formal request for a lease to be approved.

Powering this major advance is Mote’s new, $130-million capital construction fundraising effort, Oceans for All: Improving Access to Marine Science & Technology. Contingent on progress toward this goal, Mote leaders aim to begin construction in 2019. The fundraising effort started strong on Feb. 8 with the announcement that commitments for over 20 percent of facility’s total cost have already been made.

“At Mote Science Education Aquarium, science is the attraction, as it is the heart of our mission,” Crosby said.  “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.”

With 110,000 square feet of space and 1 million gallons of exhibit water, Mote Science Education Aquarium will: more than double the size of Mote Aquarium on City Island; expand the ability to feature marine animals and scientific displays from around the world; deepen visitors’ experiences through interactive teaching labs, onsite diving programs, scientific demonstrations and creatively interwoven, interactive technology; and above all, provide informal science education to a larger, more diverse audience.  More than three million Florida residents will be able to access Mote Science Education Aquarium by driving 60 minutes or less, and the projected visitor number for opening year is near 700,000.

The new facility is expected to double participation in Mote’s award-winning, informal science education programs. Mote’s education programs currently serve more than 30,000 people per year, and their expected growth will benefit those underserved or underrepresented in marine science and technology. Mote will be poised to encourage more girls to excel in scientific fields, involve more at-risk youths in ocean science and technology, and overall, involve more community members from various backgrounds in volunteer citizen-science projects.

The facility’s construction, alone says Mote, will benefit Florida’s economy through $280 million in direct and indirect expenditures and 3,123 total person-years’ employment. Beyond the one-time benefits of new construction, Mote Science Education Aquarium by itself — not including Mote’s research enterprise — will support more than 260 direct and indirect jobs and provide approximately $28 million annually in economic benefits for the State of Florida according to Mote.

“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.”

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