Recently, there has been a dedicated group of people in the city of Jacksonville pushing for the economic growth of our city. A particular advocacy group has an idea they think will do just that for Jacksonville. Their idea? An aquarium in Downtown Jax. “An advocacy group determined to advance projects for the city of Jacksonville that will provide greater prosperity, growth, and revenues to benefit all citizens,” stated Aquajax in the mission statement of their group.
The Aquarium is projected to bring a big jump in economic growth to the city of Jacksonville, especially the downtown area. George Harrell of Aquajax is at the forefront of making this Aquarium happen, and Void caught up with him to see what the Aquarium was all about and how it is going to improve our city.
“Through Aquajax, by doing the light work to get the funding and the design started, it will lead to an enormous improvement in the economic situation of Jacksonville,” Harrell said.
Harrell went on to explain the finer details of the idea. Funding will be coming from private donors, philanthropy and possibly corporate investment. The aquarium will most likely be named after one of those donors. It is projected to cost between $95-$105 million with the potential of having a return in the billions, and the group has already confirmed a number of donations and are moving forward with this process. They are even projecting the Aquarium to be open by 2018.
“We personally do not see funding as a big problem, we think it is conceivably possible to have the funding part of the project done by the end of this year,” Harrell said.
The aquarium will be located where the boat yard is by Metro Park in Downtown Jacksonville on the river. It will contain 150,000 square feet for exhibit space, as well as a number of outdoor exhibits that incorporate the river. It will hold species from all over the world, but will focus more on many local animals from reptiles to fresh and salt water fish and mammals.
“The aquarium has already been approved by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and is in close association with the Jacksonville Zoo, giving the idea all the credibility in the world,” Harrell said.
Through Harrell’s research and past cities of residence, he found that Aquariums have been a successful economic tool for cities that are struggling financially. It has been a goal of Jacksonville to revamp tourism and develop the downtown area for years, and he felt that nothing was being done about it. So, he started to research other cities who previously had the same problem. He found that one attraction stood out as the catalyst most responsible for revitalizing similar cities — an aquarium. Aquariums were placed in cities like Baltimore, Chattanooga, Corpus Christi, even Dubuque, Iowa. All were near a major river or bay that was near their downtown sector and in every city, the aquarium proved to be perfect solution to their tourism and economic problems.
So why not Jax right? But, there’s more!
The aquarium will not only give back to the financial situation of our city but give back to the education, sciences and environmental conservation of our city’s youth and wildlife. The aquarium is hoping to have the first ever onsite Manatee rehab facility, as well as programs to incorporate scientific studies, such as therapeutic animal interaction for those who could benefit from it. The aquarium will also be in tight association with the Jacksonville Zoo, so many of the scientific and biology programs in the surrounding colleges and universities can benefit from it.
One of their ideas is to fully utilize the river into the business. They want to have a boat shuttle running from the Aquarium to the Jacksonville Zoo, on to The Landing, or the Cummer museum, and back as a package deal to incorporate the aquarium with the environment, community and promote tourism for the associated establishments.
It will also bring job opportunities for graduates, as well as those looking for vendor and retail job opportunities within the aquarium. The real benefit though is what comes after. In the past, aquariums have generated local economies to grow not only within the aquariums, but around them as well. People started going to the aquariums and wanted to stay later or even over night, so those cities saw hotels being built or booked and their restaurants staying open later. You can see where this is going. It will hopefully serve as a full circle economic boost.
Aquajax will be in attendance at One Spark this year, as they are taking every opportunity to spread the word. The project has been making large strides in the progression of the aquarium and media attention since last year. This may be the next big thing for Jacksonville so keep those eyes, ears and wallets open when you hear about Aquajax and the new aquarium.