- Associated Press - Friday, March 25, 2016

GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) - The Mississippi Aquarium that’s expected to open in early 2019 will be spread through four buildings, with an outdoor exhibit as the anchor.

Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes and other officials on Friday unveiled the proposed design for the $65 million attraction that will be built near the Gulfport Harbor.

Hewes said the city already has in hand the $40 million for construction, and he estimated another $20 million will be needed to acquire animals, the Sun Herald reported (http://bit.ly/1RkKjit ).

The 2015 Legislature authorized the state to issue $24.5 million in bonds to help pay for the aquarium. Hewes said he hopes the additional money will come from the Legislature, where a bill is pending. He said it might arrive over time rather than in one lump sum.

Gov. Phil Bryant, who also attended Friday’s event, said he’s personally pledging $25,000 to the project. He later told the Sun Herald the money might come from his campaign fund because he could not afford that size donation.

PGAV Destinations of St. Louis designed the aquarium to emphasize the Mississippi Gulf Coast’s natural environment of freshwater flowing into saltwater. On entry, visitors will see a river that can be viewed from above or below through acrylic walls, a feature throughout the outdoor and indoor exhibits. Otters, alligators and river fish also will swim in the river. A dolphin pool will sit at the opposite end.

The main three-level building, the Gulf Community Gallery, will have one body of water with a dozen different views. At the top will be a touch pool with a stingray exhibit. A shark exhibit with acrylic walls will surround visitors.

Construction is expected to begin in early 2017.

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

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