The opening of the Mississippi Aquarium is more than a year away, but concrete structures are already going up on the red-dirt mounds at the downtown Gulfport site.
CEO David Kimmel shared new details on the progress and planned attractions on Tuesday at a Gulf Coast Business Council meeting.
The $93 million aquarium is on schedule to open in late 2019 or early 2020, said Kimmel, who was president of Georgia Aquarium Inc. from 2010-14.
“Every year the aquarium is going to have something different to look at,” he said.
Here are the updates he gave Tuesday:
▪ “Yes, we’re going to have sharks,” he said, along with rays, otters, dolphins, bass and other fish.
▪ The aquarium won’t be getting the water or dolphins from the Gulf of Mexico. They would have to go too far out in the Gulf to get the quality of water needed and instead will add bags of “instant ocean” to Gulfport tap water. They already have secured dolphins through animal sources instead of getting them from the Gulf, he said.
▪ The acrylic panels for the 30-foot long Gulf Tunnel are already in Gulfport and visitors will experience sharks and other fish above, below and all around them. The aquarium will have camps and sleepovers, where scouts and other groups can sleep inside the tunnel.
▪ The aquarium will have an aviary where visitors can feed birds from a cup.
▪ The teams he’s brought to work in Gulfport have designed aquariums around the world.
▪ The same people who designed the displays at the World War II Museum in New Orleans will be doing the graphics and exhibits at Mississippi Aquarium.
▪ It’s not a traditional aquarium design but more of a campus with a river flowing through it. The buildings will be designed for 160 mph winds and is elevated above Hurricane Katrina flood levels.
▪ The area around the aquarium already is booming, he said, with demolition of the former Markham Hotel underway and construction under way at Centennial Plaza and Patio 44. “The momentum is there,” he said.” The aquarium is a major part of that momentum.”
▪ Jobs for the aquarium are posted on the aquarium website.
A sneak peak of the new attraction along U.S. 90 in Gulfport is coming on Sept. 21.
A pair of penguins will waddle into Splash Bash, an adults-only fundraiser for the aquarium. Sponsored by Hancock Whitney Bank, the event is from 7-11 p.m. at at the Barksdale Pavilion in Jones Park, across the street from the aquarium construction site.
The penguins are on loan from Columbus Zoo and Aquarium’s Ambassador Animal Program. When Mississippi Aquarium opens in late 2019 or early 2020, the Penguin Plunge will be the first of the special exhibits that will rotate each year, Kimmel said.
“If there’s one thing we know how to do, it’s how to throw a party and the Hancock Whitney Inaugural Splash Bash will be an event like Mississippi has never seen before,” said Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes.
Tickets are $100 per person or $75 for young professionals ages 21-35, and all proceeds benefit the aquarium. Coastal cuisine, cocktails and music by Chinatown, a rock band from Dallas, are all part of the event.
“We anticipate Hancock Whitney Splash Bash to become the premier annual philanthropic party on the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” said John Hairston, CEO of Hancock Whitney bank.