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East County Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019 2 months ago

Mote builds momentum in building East County aquarium at Nathan Benderson Park.

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Mote Marine will select a builder for new aquarium early in 2019.
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

While the $130 million Mote Science Education Aquarium planned for Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota won't be filling any giant tanks with water in 2019, the constant flow of progress should make some waves.

Dan Bebak, vice president of Aquarium, Education and Outreach, said the coming year will be huge in terms of design and permitting.

Bebak also noted the previously released opening target of 2021 might be a little aggressive, but an opening very late that year might be possible.

Here are some of Mote's goals for 2019 when it comes to building the new aquarium.

Selecting a builder

"In the first quarter of 2019, we will be talking to various firms that have experience in constructing major aquariums," Bebak said. "We have not selected anyone yet and we should be making those proposals in the first quarter."

Bebak said Mote won't open the project to proposals since only a "limited number of firms" nationally have experience with such a project.

"It's a lot of concrete that will be holding water ... 1.2 million gallons at 8.8 pounds per gallon," he said. "That gets heavy. It's specialty engineering."

After the main builder has been selected, Bebak said Mote is committee to hiring local sub-contractors.

"They will be able to say, 'I put up that wall,'" he said. "It's a huge thing and it involves a lot of community pride."

Permitting

Bebak said Mote currently is handling the schematic design phase. and hopefully will complete that task in the first 90 days of 2019. That will allow Mote to proceed with presenting the permitting documents to Sarasota County.

"We've been working with the county for some time," Bebak said. "We don't want to go through the whole design process without input from the county. We are keeping them well apprised. We're asking, 'Does everything look OK?'"

The permitting process should be complete in the final quarter of 2019.

Due diligence work

Since Nathan Benderson Park officials and the county were so thorough in their due diligence work in preparation for opening the park, Bebak said no major surprises are expected. 

He said some soil testing and sampling do need to be accomplished. 

"It's a great site for us, we couldn't have designed a better location," he said. "We have all our utilities out there with (county) water and electricity nearby."

Accessibility

Mote, which already has a sign there, intends to keep the Fruitville Road exit off Interstate 75 as its main entrance point. Visitors would go north on Cattlemen Road.

"We are working with consultants and architects," he said. "We probably will have to make some modifications in terms of turn lanes. We are looking at how best to do that. But Fruitville is a nice approach with a lot of capacity."

Finalizing a species list

While it might seem early to finalize a species list, Bebak said it was important to get that accomplished in 2019. Besides constructing the spaces correctly to be home to different species, Mote must build and prepare storylines for its interactive exhibits."

"The design team needs to be exact," he said. "'We are going to need this much wall space next to the manatees.'"

If that wall is built to different specifications, all that work would be wasted.

"We hope to use the least amount of fixed graphics as possible," Bebak said. "We want it to be digital. and be able to be change quickly. Research and the world are changing so quickly and we need to be able to adapt and change. How is this species affected by Red Tide? People want to know when issues arise."

Personnel needed

Schultz & Williams of Philadelphia has been hired to help Mote with its personnel needs for the new aquarium. Bebak said the firm specializes in zoos and aquariums and will help with business planning.

"There will be many new people we will bring on," he said. "We are now open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and we are looking at a 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. model. That requires additional people."

However, Mote will transfer current staff members to the new aquarium and it also will be handling administration and accounting in its current facility. 

Fundraising

Bebak said Mote has a good prospect list and the fundraising team will continue to march forward.

"Corporate sponsorships will be a component," he said.

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