Proposed Ocean Expo Aquarium still in limbo

Puffer_Fish_DSC01257D’IBERVILLE — Dr. Moby Solangi can’t say when construction might begin on the $70 million to $80 million Ocean Expo Aquarium that was envisioned as a big tourist attraction.

The city of D’Iberville has already spent millions on the deal, but the project is at a standstill.

On Dec. 9, 2011 when D’Iberville city officials broke ground on the Ocean Expo Aquarium and Learning Center off Interstate 10. Nothing has happened since.

“The city has purchased the property; we’ve spent $4 million. The building should have been constructed by now,” City Manager Bobby Eleuterius tells WLOX-TV.

“We should be paying that debt service off with ticket sales, and it’s not even started.”

Eleuterius said now Solangi has asked D’Iberville to buy about $2 million worth of property so the aquarium can be moved further away from the noise of the interstate. Though the city committed to building water lines from the bay to the aquarium, Eleuterius said the city isn’t ready to spend more money on a project that seems to be going nowhere.

“The city was committed to getting a sound barrier, additional land and a water pipe line and the project hasn’t moved because some of the infrastructure they had to provide has not been provided,” said Solangi, the executive director of Institute for Marine Mammal Studies.

The aquarium site is attractive for development. D’Iberville has turned the Interstate 10-Interstate 110 intersection into a business Mecca. Eleuterius even said the company behind the Atlanta Aquarium has contacted the city about the location.

Since D’Iberville owns the land, Eleuterius said city leaders are obligated to make sure it’s profitable.

“The money that we have spent will definitely be recouped. We will not lose any money on that property,” said Eleuterius.

“We definitely plan to build an aquarium. There’s no questions, ands, ifs or buts,” said Solangi. “It’s a big project. It takes a lot of time, energy and effort.”

Solangi and D’Iberville officials plan to meet to discuss the aquarium.

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