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Gulfport leaders working on plans for aquarium

November 4, 2014

GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) — Gulfport officials are quietly working to assemble property where one of the largest aquariums in the country could be built.

Chief Administrative Officer John Kelly tells The Sun Herald (http://bit.ly/1Ef2tJW) the aquarium is a long way from reality, with much work to be done. The city lost Marine Life aquarium in the harbor to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Kelly said the city estimates an aquarium would cost $80 million to $100 million. With property added, he said, the cost would total about $115 million to $120 million. He said the city has no plans to obligate Gulfport taxpayers to finance the aquarium.

“If we are successful in building what we want to build,” Kelly said, “it could be the sixth- or seventh-largest aquarium in the United States.”

He said the city plans to own the land and building through the nonprofit Gulfport Redevelopment Commission and lease the aquarium to a professional operator. GRC can enter into long-term leases, while the city’s administration is unable to obligate the next group of elected leaders to a long-term land deal. GRC’s meetings and records, however, are not open to the public.

Moby Solangi, a former owner of Marine Life, has attempted to open an aquarium in D’Iberville. Solangi now runs the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies on the Industrial Seaway in Gulfport. IMMS is a research and educational operation with breeding, veterinary and quarantine facilities for marine mammals.

Gulfport leaders have talked with Solangi about operating an aquarium, but no agreement has been reached.

“We have told them that we’ll be delighted to work with them once they have some funding in place,” Solangi said. “The most important part is funding. The rest of it is all talk.”

Kelly said the city needs more family attractions, noting that the city of Biloxi is building a minor league baseball stadium.

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Information from: The Sun Herald, http://www.sunherald.com

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