Seattle City Council loans $20 million to aquarium expansion project

Aug 17, 2022, 10:01 AM
(Photo by Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
(Photo by Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

The City Council has decided to loan $20 million to the Seattle Aquarium to expedite construction for a new addition.

The expansion project will feature a new exhibit to the east of the current aquarium building across the street from Alaskan Way, which will be called the Ocean Pavilion. The project plans to add 40% more exhibit space and is set to include several major new attractions for the aquarium, including a Tropical Pacific exhibit.

This new tropical exhibit is expected to expand current capacity and boost attendance to 1-1.2 million, according to Aquarium President Robert Davidson.

Seattle Aquarium prepping for major expansion

“We think the investment is worth it, and it’s going to deliver a world-class aquarium to the city of Seattle,” said Brad Rutherford, Seattle Aquarium’s chief operating officer.

The Seattle Aquarium blames COVID-19 for running up costs from $113 to $160 million for the Ocean Pavilion, which they say is primarily due to delays in construction and the rising cost of materials and labor costs.

Another big factor in the increased cost relates to Seattle’s waterfront revival projects — which began after the viaduct was demolished — allowing for more space for parks, walkable sidewalks, and more. The revival project authorized a new public rooftop space on top of the new aquarium building, a late addition that has affected the construction timeline.

In a committee meeting last week, city Councilmember Alex Pedersen was the lone vote against the extra money as he questioned the total cost rising to $160 million from $113 million in 2019.

“That’s a 41% increase in just thirty months,” Pedersen said.

Pedersen and fellow Councilmember Kshama Sawant were the only “no” votes when the matter went before the full council on Tuesday.

According to Rutherford, the $20 million loan will be repaid to the city with interest.

The city has previously allocated $34 million in grants for the pavilion project, specifically adding funding for the introduction of a shark exhibit.

Half of the total funding comes from the government and the other half from private donors.

Despite the COVID slowdown, the aquarium says it’s on track to meet fundraising goals.

The new building is expected to open in 2024.

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Seattle City Council loans $20 million to aquarium expansion project