MADEIRA BEACH, Fla. - The fish and sea life that live in the tanks at the St. Petersburg Pier Aquarium are oblivious to the battle being waged over the future of their iconic home. But one thing is certain, they will have a new home.
With multiple whacks of the sledgehammer, the first steps were taken to transform a two-story building at John's Pass in Madeira Beach into The Secrets of the Sea Marine Exploration Center and Aquarium.
"Our 25 years of history at the St. Petersburg Pier provided us a stepping stone. We were limited by space, obviously, at that current location. We will stand out here as a destination at John's Pass Village," said E. Howard Rutherford, President and CEO of Secrets of the Sea.
Science, education and marine exploration are key components of the new 13,000-square-foot facility. One of the highlights will be a globe, six feet high, that showcases real-time environmental data.
Business leaders and officials from Madeira Beach, Treasure Island and St. Pete Beach came together help make Secrets of the Sea a reality.
"I think it's important that we're not seen as a local attraction. We are a regional attraction," explained Rutherford.
With established aquariums already operating in Clearwater and Tampa, does the addition of Secrets of the Sea mean too many aquariums?
"Any time we can add something new to our offerings, like this, is something that's going to draw more and new visitation to the area; and that's something that's good for tourism," explained David Downing, Deputy Director of the St. Pete/Clearwater Area CVB.
The Secrets of the Sea aquarium is expected to generate an estimated $8-million a year in economic impact and is scheduled to open in November of this year.