- Associated Press - Monday, October 12, 2015

GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) - A marketing study finds the Mississippi Aquarium planned for Gulfport’s waterfront would create a visitor experience “significantly larger in scale” than any Coast attraction.

The Sun Herald reports (https://bit.ly/1LfZW4i) the Gulfport Redevelopment Commission, which owns 12 acres downtown where the aquarium would be built, is talking about an initial investment of $40 million. Mayor Billy Hewes believes the money will be there.

“We are very close to making this a reality,” Hewes told the Sun Herald last week. At Gov. Phil Bryant’s suggestion, Hewes said, the city initially invested in the project to show it was serious.

Gulfport is paying interest on a $14 million loan used to buy 10 acres of the downtown property, hoping to repay the principal with income from ticket sales and possibly other aquarium proceeds. The GRC, which owns the property, has selected a design team that includes the local architectural firm of Eley Guild Hardy and internationally experienced aquarium designers PGAV Destinations of St. Louis, Mo.

GRC’s next steps are negotiating a contract with the design team, then getting public input before aquarium plans are drawn up. GRC also must hire an aquarium operator.

Hewes said, “It’s taken two years of very focused effort and detail to get to this point.”

The company that completed the marketing study, Pro Forma Advisors LLC based in Los Angeles, concluded the Coast market would support an aquarium that has 97,000 square feet of enclosed space — a little more than half the size of the Audubon Aquarium of the Americans in New Orleans. But the Gulfport aquarium concept has a Coast twist, an outdoor river system that dominates the landscape.

To achieve annual revenues of $11.4 million in 2019 dollars, the aquarium would need an average of 487,000 visitors a year, the marketing study concludes. The projected average exceeds by almost 60 percent combined annual attendance for six other Coast tourist attractions: the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art, Beauvoir, the Walter Anderson Museum of Art, Infinity Science Center, the Biloxi Seafood & Heritage Museum and Lynn Meadows Discovery Center.

Market potential for the aquarium project is based on continued population and tourism growth projected from historical trends, and no major disruptions, including hurricanes and recessions.

The city and GRC’s plans tie the aquarium through public transit to the harbor south of U.S. 90 and to undeveloped Centennial Plaza (the old Veterans Affairs property), which is 1.75 miles to the east, also on U.S. 90.


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

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