Seattle Aquarium prepping for major expansion

Jun 15, 2015, 10:11 PM | Updated: May 8, 2016, 10:12 pm

Seattle could become home to sharks in less than a decade.

The Seattle Aquarium is in the planning stages of an expansion that could add at least 40 percent more exhibit space, including a Tropical Pacific exhibit, according to Aquarium President and CEO Robert Davidson.

If approved, the current plan calls for a separate building to the east of the aquarium, within the proposed Aquarium Plaza and along the Overlook Walk, where the Tropical Pacific exhibit will be housed, according to the final draft of the master plan. It’s an opportunity to place the new exhibit in the midst of activity between the Pike Place Market and the waterfront, Davidson said.

The reason for the expansion can be broken down to space and age. First, the aquarium as it is now does not have the capacity to handle increased traffic. Attendance at the aquarium is expected to increase once the Alaskan Way Viaduct is removed and the market and waterfront are better connected. The aquarium welcomes about 5,000 people on a busy day.

“Much beyond that and it gets pretty cramped,” Davidson said.

There was an attendance of 811,829 at the aquarium in 2014, according to the master plan. That’s even more than the Pacific Science Center, which had an attendance of 770,349.

The Tropical exhibit alone could help the aquarium increase its current capacity and boost attendance to 1 million to 1.2 million, Davidson said.

Plans also call for renovations and a slight expansion of the current aquarium, including the Puget Sound and outer coast exhibits, which date back to 1977, according to the master plan. That could further boost attendance to the tune of up to 1.4 million. Davidson said the renovations will improve the quality of exhibits and ensure a continuing quality of care for the animals.

Exactly how the expansion will be paid for is still up in the air. It will involve a partnership with the city and investors. Davidson expects fundraising to take two to three years.

Construction is expected to begin in 2019 to 2020, Davidson said. It will take about two years to complete the work.

Like other work planned in the area, the aquarium expansion is at the mercy of the Seattle tunnel project. Crews won’t begin work until the viaduct is removed.

A presentation on the expansion is scheduled for Tuesday 6-7:30 p.m. at the aquarium. The public can learn how it will align with Seattle’s revitalized waterfront. The project’s architect, Marc L’Italien, will share highlights of the proposal.

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Seattle Aquarium prepping for major expansion