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Draper OKs plan to help The Living Planet aquarium move

Published January 4, 2012 12:06 pm

Living Planet • New site will offer more room, better visibility.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Draper • Like a hermit crab, The Living Planet is outgrowing its shell and looking for a new one.

Brent Andersen, the nonprofit aquarium's founder and chief executive, said it is planning to build a 180,000-square-foot building off Interstate 15 near 12300 South to accommodate the growing attraction.

"We started out in Salt Lake City with 10,000 square feet, and we currently have 43,000 square feet, but we have outgrown that," Andersen said Tuesday night.

And the aquarium is getting some help from the city. The City Council unanimously voted to authorize Mayor Darrel H. Smith to sign a memorandum of understanding with the aquarium where the city will loan The Living Planet $11.7 million to build the new aquarium.

The agreement was originally drafted in December, but City Manager Layne Long said it needed some adjustments that warranted bringing it back to the council for approval.

Under the agreement, the city will take out a sales-tax revenue bond for $11.7 million to cover the city's share of the project, as well as cover the first year of payments while the aquarium gets up and running. The original agreement only covered the $11 million construction cost.

The aquarium will get the remaining $7 million from donations and $2 million from the state.

Under the agreement, the aquarium will give the city title to the building and its exhibits. The city will hold that until the bond is paid off.

But, if the aquarium defaults, the city will own the aquarium — and its exhibits.

And although council members said the aquarium will be a great asset, they wanted assurance that city's interest was protected.

"We have to make sure what is going into the deal," said Councilman Troy Walker. "I, as a councilman, am not going to vote for one nickel more. This is not a well you can come back to."

But Rep. Tim Cosgrove, a member of the aquarium's board of directors, said failure will not be an option. He said visits to the aquarium were up this year, despite a lagging economy. He attributed that to people deciding to stay closer to home for vacations.

Plus, putting the aquarium off the freeway will make it more visible to tourists and accessible than its current location in Sandy.

"It will be a landmark," Cosgrove said.

Long said it will also be good for Draper.

"To maintain our quality of life, we have to have a good economic base. This will do that," Long said.

He said the aquarium will give Draper recognition not just within Utah, but across the nation.

Andersen said the aquarium is expected to break ground in April, with construction to be completed in April 2013.

dmeyers@sltrib.com

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On the web

O The Living Planet Aquarium › http://www.thelivingplanet.com.