Next month, Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium leaders will ask the Sarasota City Commission to commit to a vision that includes a new aquarium on five acres of city-owned bayfront land.
In the meantime, those leaders seek to coalesce community support. On Tuesday, Mote President and CEO Michael Crosby spoke at an Argus Foundation meeting, outlining the organization’s once-closely guarded vision for the future in public.
As part of its 2020 Vision and Strategic Plan, Mote has been working on expansion since 2010. In particular, the organization has focused on growing its research facilities and operations. To facilitate that growth, Mote is interested in devoting its City Island campus almost entirely to the laboratory — and thus, in relocating its aquarium operations.
Following years of research and multiple feasibility studies, Mote concluded that the optimal location for a new aquarium would be at what is currently the Van Wezel parking lot. The vast majority of that research and planning was done privately, with details of Mote’s interest in a bayfront location leaking through a separate, broader development proposal.
Now, however, Mote is openly campaigning for its proposal and distancing itself from other groups. At Tuesday’s meeting, Crosby emphasized the relationship between Mote and the community. Crosby said the decision about the facility is in the hands of the citizens, and stressed that no other group could speak to Mote’s future plans.
“That is a decision for the community to make,” Crosby said. “Mote doesn’t need someone to represent us to our own community.”
Crosby revealed some additional details about the potential scope of the proposed aquarium. He said Mote would seek a five-acre site from the city, and that consultants recommended a 70,000- to 90,000-square-foot facility.
Crosby said Mote has gotten an endorsement for its vision from the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County, the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce and the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County. The Argus Foundation board of directors will consider whether to offer its endorsement at a future meeting.