Consultant David Kimmel is confident the Mississippi Aquarium can be built and stocked with animals for $93 million.
Further, Kimmel said, he expects the aquarium to be self-supporting because it should be debt-free, or close to it, when it opens in early 2019.
“I’m very comfortable with the budget,” he said. “The $93 million is all we will need to open a beautiful aquarium for the citizens of Gulfport and the state.
“We have great designers. Everything that we design, we consider the cost of operations and staffing. The aquarium will be self-sufficient when it’s open. Absolutely. There are tremendous examples of good aquariums that are totally self-sufficient.”
The balcony of the building that was once Big Mike's Speakeasy is demolished Monday to make way for new aquarium.
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Kimmel said $1.1 million in the budget is for animal acquisition, including line items for fish collection and research and development. Kimmel, who previously headed the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, said animal exchanges with other organizations will contribute to the Mississippi Aquarium’s stock.
The Mississippi Aquarium will work for accreditation through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Accreditation sets standards that include animal care and education. “This to me is like having the Good Housekeeping seal,” Kimmel said.
The aquarium is counting on substantial state funding, corporate sponsorships and individual contributions. The state has agreed to issue $24.5 million in bonds, and contribute $17.5 million more in BP oil-catastrophe money.
The city has guaranteed a $14.5 million loan for acreage to build the aquarium on the waterfront downtown. Land costs are included in the $93 million budget.
The GRC has hired marketing firm MESH of Baton Rouge to craft a corporate package for a capital campaign.
“It would give people and businesses naming opportunities for a section of the aquarium,” said Carole Lynn Meadows of the GRC. “We will even go with brick sales, so every person who contributes will have some ownership in it. We want this aquarium to be every person’s aquarium, in the sense that they support it every way they can, small or large.”