City pulls out all stops to lure aquarium complex
D’IBERVILLE — Ocean Expo Learning Center will be built in D’Iberville, but city officials at Wednesday’s announcement were quick to say the entire Gulf Coast will benefit from this family attraction.
When the $75 million complex is complete, it will feature marine mammal shows, aquarium exhibits and interactive adventures.
It will be unlike other aquariums, said Moby Solangi, president of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, which will build and operate the center. Visitors will swim in the winding coastal shallows with fish and turtles. They will pet a dolphin, will kiss a sea lion and will walk among free-flying birds and butterflies.
The central exhibits will be indoors for year-round use, and outdoors will be gardens, waterfalls and perhaps flamingos.
“We’re gong to just make education fun,” Solangi said.
Also planned are a rainforest restaurant, picnic areas, a gift shop and harbor tours.
“We intend to have boat ferries back and forth,” he said, between the entertaining Ocean Expo in D’Iberville and the educational Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, where the dolphins and rescued marine mammals receive care.
Biloxi and Gulfport also were competing with D’Iberville to be the site of the new aquarium.
“We don’t ever turn down a good fight,” D’Iberville Mayor Rusty Quave said.
The city worked with Solangi for about 18 months to attract the aquarium and Quave said they wouldn’t take no for an answer.
In the end it was location that clinched the deal, Solangi said. The site on the southwest corner of the Interstate 10 and I-110 interchange, opposite The Promenade shopping complex, has good exposure and access, he said. At 33 feet above sea level, there aren’t the extra construction costs to elevate the buildings, and he said the aquarium won’t need to be evacuated every time there is a storm.
The property isn’t waterfront, even though a waterfront site was one of the criteria the three cities were asked to meet. The locations Biloxi and Gulfport offered were within a couple of hundred yards of the beach, he said.
City Manager Michael Janus said D’Iberville couldn’t put enough land together on its waterfront. Bob Mandel offered to sell the city 6.5 acres just off the interstate and agreed to owner financing until the city can get a grant or bond to pay for it.
D’Iberville will put in water lines to pump salt water from the Back Bay to the aquarium, which Solangi said is about a mile away, and build a boat slip for the learning center’s use, he said.
“There’s a lot they were willing to do,” Solangi said.
“We offered everything we could offer you under the confines of the law,” Janus said.
He estimates the saltwater pipe will cost about $2.5 million.
“We need to diversify,” Janus said, so people will know D’Iberville not just as the community with Target, but the city with the aquarium. “This will hopefully lure additional developments,” he said.
By Mary Perez