- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 26, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah students, families and others are starting to wind through a replicated corner of the Amazon, simulate hikes through jungle fog and cozy up to hulking shark tanks at a new aquarium in a suburb south of Salt Lake City.

State and local officials say they are excited by the $24 million Loveland Living Planet Aquarium, which opened Tuesday in Draper, and they hope it will draw visitors from across the Wasatch Front.

The new attraction comes largely from a $14 million bond from Draper City. It’s an improvement from the aquarium’s former strip mall-like Sandy location, said Shawn Stinson, spokesman for Visit Salt Lake.

“It’s exciting from our perspective,” he said. “It’s a far cry from what it once was.”

Stinson hopes the aquarium will draw visitors in the vein of the open-air Salt Lake City mall City Creek Center, he said. The collection of downtown stores opened in 2012 and is credited with attracting tourists to the city.

The new aquarium is about three times bigger than its former Sandy location, and it’s the ninth biggest in the nation.

It will help to burnish the reputation of Salt Lake City, said Jay Kinghorn, director of communications for the Utah Office of Tourism.

The bulk of the new facility is paid for by the bond from Draper City, a fast-developing suburb south of Salt Lake City. The state also shelled out $2 million for the project, and $2.5 million came from the Loveland Family Foundation. A host of donations also came from businesses and others.

The aquarium’s 74 exhibits use 500,000 gallons of water. That’s about as much as 30 backyard swimming pools. It also has event space with room for 450 seats intended for private events.

The facility is expected to draw 530,000 visitors each year.

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