Aquarium undergoes massive expansion
Monday, 31 Jan 2011, 6:21 PM EST
FOX 13 Pinellas reporter
CLEARWATER - The Clearwater Marine Aquarium plans a $12 million expansion, hopefully to be largely completed before the September release of "Winter: A Dolphin's Tale."
The motion picture features Winter, the Aquarium's star attraction. She lost her tail when it became entangled a crab trap line, but was later fitted with a prosthesis and has been featured in broadcast and print articles around the world.
The expansion will essentially create a new Clearwater Marine Aquarium: new lobby and gift shop area, new restrooms, and much larger facilities for treating rescued dolphin and sea turtles.
"We'll go from about 400,000 gallons now to about 2 million gallons," said director David Yates.
Instead of gathering around a railing for dolphin shows, the public will sit in a 1,000 seat outdoor auditorium. There will also be a new parking garage and additional surface parking.
Yates and Pinellas tourism officials expect a big impact from the big screen production, much of which was filmed in the Clearwater area and at the Aquarium. Asked about attendance, Yates said "Right now we do about 200,000 a year. We could easily be at a half million, easily next year, if not more than that."
Pinellas tourism advertising features the newly-opened Dali Museum right now, but that will switch to Winter later this year.
One visitor from Canada endorses the strategy. Eight-year old Jordan Aslip said she waited "her whole life" to see Winter, ever since her grandmother sent her a news clip about the dolphin with a prosthetic tail.
After finally getting her wish, Jordan said "I think more kids will want to come see Winter and see, 'can she actually swim like that?' Because they'll want to know, 'can she do that?'"
Jordan thinks the reality sets Winter apart from other motion picture characters.