Marine Conservation Partners, 53-year-old Shawn P. Hiester, is armed with an agreement reserving city-owned property at Riberia Pointe for one year; allowing him adequate time to complete his business plans, related studies, design work, and to secure funding to construct a 250,000-gallon, 43,000-square-foot aquarium, botanical gardens, and aviary.
Will he and his wife, Kathy, make it? In a recent interview, Hiester seemed confident — even though, his agreement with the City of St Augustine, approved by the city commission in October, 2013, is secured by nothing more than a $5,000 refundable deposit.
“We expect to break ground in June on the first phase that calls for 110,000 gallons of marine exhibits and 25,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor facilities,” Hiester said in one published news report. “We’re still about two weeks away from finalizing an overall master site plan.”
The St Augustine Aquarium project coincides with an adjacent museum project for the Children’s Museum of St Johns; both projects expressed the intention of opening in 2015 in time for the much ballyhooed “450th Commemoration” of the city’s founding. Hiester anticipated his grand opening will be in February 2015.
With an estimated $6.3 million price tag, the non-profit Children’s Museum of St Johns will focus on interactive learning and play; highlighting science, technology, engineering, art, math, history and culture. The St Augustine Aquarium is now saying estimated costs for their project will total $8 million, while Hiester told commissioners during his initial pitch to buy the 1.4-acre site in September that he projected construction cost of the aquarium at $3 million.
Hiester told reporters that they are working their way through the permitting process, which is expected to continue for three months. According to St Augustine Planning and Building Director, Mark Knight, the current zoning for Riberia Point is government. If the aquarium and children’s museum decide they want to buy the land during their due diligence period, Knight says a rezoning will be required.