GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - As expected, D'Iberville officially became the home of the Ocean Expo Learning Center on Wednesday. The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies announced its new multi-million dollar oceanarium will go to D'Iberville. Biloxi and Gulfport also wanted the facility.
The new oceanarium will be located at the intersection of Interstate 10 and Interstate 110. The facility will offer activities like marine mammal shows, interactive exhibits, and snorkeling. IMMS President Dr. Moby Solangi says in the end this is a win for the entire Mississippi coast.
Dr. Solangi talked about the decision to choose D'Iberville over two other coast cities. "Everybody else we looked at wanted to know what we were going to do for them. These people were saying what can we do for you?"
He said elevation, insurance cost, proximity to casinos and high traffic volume make I-10 D'Iberville a perfect spot to build a $10 million dollar oceanarium.
"We're looking at a very unique facility," said Dr. Solangi. AAn interactive facility where people can touch and feel things and I think that what will make it very different from all the other ones in our neighborhood."
The new oceanarium will blend educational research with entertainment and promises to be a tourism draw.
Dr. Sharon Walker will serve as Director of Education and Outreach. "If are a convention planning to coming to this city or anywhere on our coast for that matter you want more family conventioneer destinations. So there are more people enjoying this sun sand."
During the announcement, D'Iberville City Manager Michael Janus held up an old picture of a sea lion kissing his daughter Sarah at Marine Life. He says children living in the aftermath of Katrina should have the same learning opportunity.
"Moby, he lectured me along the negotiations," said Janus. "'Michael, you need to forget about this being another big box retail. This is an educational facility for families and you really can't quantify that in dollars and cents.'".
Janus said, "So at the end of the day, it's all about the kids."
D'Iberville officials say the city bought six point five acres at the south west quadrant of the Interstate 10 and I-110 intersection for an undisclosed amount. The city is leasing the property to the aquarium with an option to buy.
Now the Promenade, Wal-Mart and many other retail outlets are all nearby and the traffic tie ups are common in this area. Mayor Rusty Quave says with the aquarium coming, the city is already making plans to keep cars moving in and out with ease.
"There is a slip ramp planned to take the traffic off the interstate at that locale,"said Mayor Quave. "It's already in the plans. It's shovel ready. It's environmental has been met so we're just waiting for the Department of Transportation to come in and do the project. We hope that is going to happen in the near future."
Officials say they are shooting for a December groundbreaking for the new aquarium and construction is expected to last two years.
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By Danielle Thomas
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