Clearwater Marine Aquarium should reward voters' faith - 2016-07-07
Clearwater voters took a leap of faith nearly three years ago by approving an ambitious plan for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium to build a new home on the city's downtown bluff. That grand vision failed to pan out. Now the aquarium has an opportunity to demonstrate its appreciation for the public's confidence in its mission by selling to the city a key piece of downtown property for a fair price.
The aquarium bought the 1.4-acre lot in 2012 as part of its plan to move to an adjacent site now occupied by City Hall. Voters in 2013 approved a referendum to allow the aquarium to pursue a long-term lease with the city, and the aquarium hoped to build a three-level facility with a price tag of up to $160 million. Early projections suggested the new attraction could draw more than 2 million visitors a year and be the long-sought cornerstone to rejuvenating downtown.
It was a calculated risk worth taking, and voters long wary of development on the bluff approved pursuing the project. But faced with raising $28 million in private donations in a relatively short period, the aquarium announced last year it was abandoning the plan and would expand its current home on Island Estates. So the aquarium no longer needs the downtown vacant lot, and its decision on whom to sell it to will have long-term consequences.