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New plan outlines $12 million in improvements to Central Coast Aquarium

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Posted at 6:53 AM, Mar 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-10 10:36:49-04

The Central Coast Aquarium in Morro Bay has been closed since September 2018, but it could get a breath of new life if the City Council casts its support at Tuesday night's meeting.

After months of planning, a new feasibility study shows an estimated $10 to $12 million is needed to transform the existing space into the new design.

A multi-level concept drawing depicts 20 individual hands-on interactive exhibits with living aquatic features, classrooms and meeting space, and interactive wet and dry exploration tables.

"Aquariums are really popular because people get to see under the water which is difficult to do unless you're a scuba diver," Christine Johnson, the aquarium's executive director, said. "Otherwise we never really get to see it, so people love to come to the aquarium and see under the surface. Also, we'll have lots of interaction. People really love to touch animals and interact with them as much as possible."

The aquarium was dubiously named the worst of its kind in the country by Vice News.

"The fish room was so bleak it felt as though each design decision had been specifically made to maximize its misery," the article said.

The aesthetic of the facility is just one of many challenges the aquarium has faced over the years.

"Timing is a large one on the city's behalf because they have a lease site that hasn't been active and I know that really does impact the businesses around the site and everyone's interactions on the Embarcadero," Johnson said. "People miss having an aquarium, so I think keeping to a timeline that's realistic is our initial challenge but then obviously the upcoming challenge will be fundraising and grant writing to actually fund the development."

Aquarium leadership sees the aquarium as both a space for learning and an attraction for tourists.

The study estimates about 55-60,000 visitors per year will visit the 16,000 sq. ft. aquarium.

According to Johnson, the aquarium has 65 donors, including Cal Poly, businesses on the Embarcadero, 50 individual citizens, and local government.

Johnson said her team plans to ask the city council for lease relief in the space on the Embarcadero.