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Florida Aquarium marks 20th anniversary

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

As the Florida Aquarium in downtown Tampa prepares to mark its 20th anniversary, officials say the attraction is thriving.

The Tampa Tribune reported that attendance has climbed since the aquarium opened back in 1995. Attendance topped 750,000 for the first time in 2014.

In its early years, the aquarium’s success was uncertain. The city had to make an unexpected $2.5 million payment on finishing touches before the aquarium opened and the aquarium lost $300,000 its first year.

“We are doing very well,” said aquarium CEO Thom Stork.

“We’ve had record attendance and revenues and that’s been a trend for the past few year,” he said.

Thom said attendance has increased each of the past five years.

Admission tickets make up 75 percent of the annual $17 million budget. Donations, grants and a city subsidy make up the rest.

The city still pays $6.7 million a year on construction debt for the project. But Tampa leaders say the aquarium has been a good thing for the city and has helped to jumpstart other developments in the downtown district.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the aquarium fits with the redevelopment of the Channelside district downtown and “offers a uniqueness to downtown that most downtowns don’t have.”

“It was visionary 20 years ago when it was established, when there was nothing there but warehouses,” Buckhorn said. “It energized and created a sense of destination for that corner of downtown. The next 20 years, it will get more exciting.”

The aquarium plans a series of anniversary celebrations and special exhibits through August.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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