New location approved for St. Petersburg aquarium

After a two year hiatus, the popular pier aquarium in St. Petersburg will once again open for business.

The aquarium has not had a place to call home since 2013, when the St. Pete Pier closed.

On Thursday, the St. Pete City Council unanimously approved a three-year lease agreement with Secrets of the Sea Exploration Center and Aquarium to rent out its port terminal building on 8th Avenue Southeast.

"It means a lot of activity and growth for the port. I think activity begets activity. This will be a draw for many new things we may not even know of right now," said Walter Miller, Marine and Port Manager for the City of St. Petersburg.

The 9,000-square-foot port terminal building would be renovated by the city at a cost of $200,000. A portion of the expenses would come from a Florida Department of Transportation grant.

Secrets of the Sea will be responsible for all operating costs. 

"We did numerous market surveys that showed the aquarium and the Columbia restaurant are the two main reasons people came out to the pier," said Mark Luther, Acting CEO of the aquarium.

Aquarium officials are hopeful the same crowd will follow them to the port location.

Visitors will find all new fish, high-tech exhibits, and possibly a water taxi, leading tourists from Beach Drive to the port. In addition, old favorites like 'Tthe Touch Tank' will reopen.

Officials are planning several events once the new facility opens to make the community aware of its existence. 

"We're going to have food truck rallies; we're going to have bands playing down there; we're going to have fishing tournaments for kids," said Luther.

The primary focus of the aquarium will be to educate students and other visitors on all that Tampa Bay's marine life has to offer. 

"The more you know about something, the more you're likely to love it and protect it, so if we can get the public more aware of what's happening in our oceans, they're more likely to support funding for marine research and technology," said Luther.

Renovations for the Port Terminal are expected to last through the end of 2015. The new aquarium is set to open by spring of 2016.