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Mote Expands Land Request For New Aquarium

Mote Marine Laboratory
Artist's rendering of the proposed $130 million aqaurium that Mote Marine Laboratory wants to build in Nathan Benderson Park.

Mote Marine Laboratory is working with Sarasota County to lease, and eventually own, 27 acres of land for a new aquarium at Nathan Benderson Park. 

In February, a previous proposal requested five acres of park property. The land in the new proposal includes a pair of retention ponds and parking that would be covered under a joint-use agreement between Mote and Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates.

SANCA manages Nathan Benderson Park, which is home to a multi-use sports venue, including an internationally known rowing venue.

The new aquarium is expected to cost $130 million. According to Mote’s Ocean For All website, funding for the aquarium will come from philanthropy, partnership, and public support.

The updated project was first discussed Oct. 2 in a meeting between Mote Attorney John Patterson and the Sarasota County Commission.

Sarasota County Attorney Steve DeMarsh told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune he would prefer the county work toward an agreement leading to a straight sale. However, Patterson said Mote would prefer a lease with an obligation to eventually own the land.  

If Mote bought the property, changes in zoning would have to take place before the aquarium could be built. However, those changes are not guaranteed, because the county would have to hold a hearing discussing it.

Right now, Mote could build an aquarium on the property if it’s leasing the land.

Officials are also worried about a proposed county charter amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot. If passed, it would prohibit the sale of county-owned parks and preserves.

Due to these challenges, the pressure is on for both sides to negotiate an agreement by Oct. 24, the date the commission set when they discussed the issue last month.

Jeslyn Santiago is a WUSF/USF Zimmerman School digital news intern for fall 2018.
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