Sarasota County commissioners unanimously approved a new land-use agreement with Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium today for the proposed Science Education Aquarium project at Nathan Benderson Park.
The deal grants Mote a $100 a year short-term lease of two years, during which the organization will work toward purchasing the 12-acre parcel just south of University Town Center.
During the initial phase, while the lease is in place, Mote will work through due diligence steps. That includes ensuring cooperation with the other organizations using the park, surveying the land, undertaking environmental testing and obtaining permits.
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Once permits, zoning changes and fundraising are in place, construction will begin.
The agreement also provides a pathway for Mote to eventually purchase the property.
Commissioner Mike Moran called it “a memorable day for Sarasota” that would, ultimately, help to attract more scientists from all over the world.
Commissioner Christian Ziegler said the aquarium would benefit tourism in general.
“That property there is really the gateway to Sarasota County,” he said. “That’s the first piece of property, if you’re coming south on I-75, that you see in our community. What better way to welcome them than with a project like this?”
Mote plans to move most of its educational and visitor attractions to the Benderson site while bulking up the scientific research work at its City Island location.
Mote President and CEO Michael Crosby, during an event at Gold Coast Eagle Distributing in Lakewood Ranch on Jan. 23, compared the building to the iconic Sydney Opera House in Australia.
He said the planned $130 million project could make a similar impression on the 42 million people a year who drive past on Interstate 75.
“This will be a gateway for our community,” Crosby said.