Mote Aquarium could expand to Punta Gorda

Gabrielle Sarann

Mote Aquarium could expand to Punta Gorda

CREATED Apr. 4, 2012

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. - A destination for marine research and tourists could be on its way to our area. And it's being called a "game-changer" if it's built in the heart of Punta Gorda.

Imagine transforming part of a vacant, Punta Gorda lot a three-story aquarium just south of Charlotte Harbor.

"I think it would be the most amazing thing," said Kathleen Gamble, of Punta Gorda.

Four times a week, Kathleen and her friend, Chakulla dine across the street from that six-acre eyesore.

"It reminds me of [Hurricane] Charley," added Chakulla.

A painful memory from 2004 he'd prefer to forget.

"The one piece that wasn't developed is what we call the black hole," said Tom Kerr, a Mote southwest Florida project coordinator, about the property.

Developers hope to lease 1.5 acres of the empty lot to Mote Marine in Sarasota. The plan would be to build what Kerr is calling a major attraction.

"It'll make people want to come to Punta Gorda and not just stay overnight but maybe stay for three or four days and enjoy this beautiful city that we have here," explained Kerr.

Charlotte County officials say the economic impact would be at least $35 million.

"We're looking at potentially, conservatively more than 100,000 people a year visiting Charlotte County just to come to Mote Aquarium," said Lorah Steiner, the director of tourism for Charlotte County.

But the aquarium will need to raise millions of dollars to make this happen, which will be through corporate sponsors and private donations.

"Perhaps even a rooftop bar, where people could sit on top and view our beautiful Charlotte Harbor and have a cocktail and enjoy themselves," said Kerr.

Mote Aquarium wouldn't comment on specifics other than saying there's still a lot more planning to do. Kerr say the project could break ground in the next two years.

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