PORT CANAVERAL, Fla. – Brevard Zoo officials want to build an aquarium in Port Canaveral's Cove area the could become a focal point of that area's development as a tourist attraction, Local 6 news partner FLORIDA TODAY reports.
"We have a concept," Brevard Zoo Executive Director Keith Winsten said. "We're very selectively shopping it around."
Winsten envisions the aquarium as having both indoor and outdoor exhibits, with a focus on the Space Coast, the Indian River Lagoon, the St. Johns River, Port Canaveral and local marine life.
"It's not a cookie-cutter aquarium," Winsten said. "It will tell a story" of the community, and will be "a family-friendly attraction, It will have a unique feel."
Winsten said people who are aware of the project "are very excited about it."
The major challenge now, Winsten said, will be finding ways to pay for the facility, which he estimates would cost $30 million to $50 million.
"We don't have an answer for that," Winsten said, adding that the zoo plans to pursue various public and private sources.
These could include a zoo capital fundraising campaign, corporate sponsorships, federal and state grants, and using money from county's 5 percent Tourist Development Tax on hotel room rentals. The port also potentially could assist with roads and other infrastructure.
The timeline for building the aquarium would depend on getting the approval from port officials and on fundraising.
Winsten said he believes the aquarium would draw 400,000 to 600,000 visitors a year.
In comparison, the Brevard Zoo attracted 401,837 visitors in 2014 and expects to have about 414,000 this year.
Winsten anticipates that the admission price at the aquarium would start at less than $20 per person.
At that price and attendance level, the aquarium would be a moneymaker, he said.
Winsten said there would be about 50,000 square feet of inside space, plus an outdoor water play area and other outdoor features, as well as a gift shop and a restaurant whose menu potentially could include samples of three types of shrimp found off the Florida coast.
Winsten said the aquarium would be about a 90-minute experience for visitors, which would include a mix of local residents, cruise passengers and other tourists.
"An aquarium very easily fits into the other great things" planned for the port's Cove area, including additional restaurants and retail businesses, Winsten said.
Jason Steele, who is the real estate broker for a group that is working to develop the Cove area for the port, said the aquarium would be a good addition.
"The Cove is all about creating excitement for the port and Brevard County," Steele said. "An aquarium would certainly add to the magic and excitement,"
Winsten said he would like to tie the aquarium project into a hotel project being proposed for the Cove area by a group led by hotelier Samir Patel. That group operates 10 other hotels in Florida. including five in Brevard County.
One possibility, Winsten said, would be to offer hotel guests free access to the water play area at the aquarium.
Winsten said he expects the aquarium to inform visitors about the Brevard Zoo's marine conservation work and to give visitors an opportunity to get involved.
Winsten said the proposed aquarium at Port Canaveral would be the only full-scale aquarium on Florida's East Coast, although there are several attractions focused on dolphins and killer whales.
The proposed Port Canaveral aquarium won't include dolphins or killer whales, but it would have alligators and otters, Winsten said.
Steele said a Space Coast-themed aquarium would fit right in with the plans to create a Cove area that has the "Seaport Village feel" that port officials are envisioning.