Will St Augustine or St Johns County attract aquarium?


Shawn and Kathy Hiester are continuing their search for a location to house an 8,000 square-foot marine aquarium; even though neither one of them has ever operated such an attraction, nor, as reported by Historic City News this weekend, have they been received with open arms by members of the Lincolnville community.

In an interview yesterday, reported by the Jacksonville Business Journal, Shawn Hiester says he’s considering three other sites — all of which are in St. Johns County and some of which are in the City of St Augustine.

“The project is $4.5 million of annual economic impact, so there’s a lot of interest on the part of a lot of folks that we do the aquarium project,” Heister was quoted. “We’ll find the right place.”

Some concerned citizens who began looking beneath the surface after it appeared the Hiesters had already occasioned the blessings of the City Manager, Assistant City Manager, and possibly the Mayor, uncovered more than a few “red flag” warnings and raised questions publically about the propriety of the city’s financial involvement with the couple of private entrepreneurs who to anyone’s knowledge, were short on industry experience and short on long term financing — without the city’s backing.

Shawn Hiester, who is 53-years-old, told the Business Journal interviewer that he and his wife have accumulated $600,000 in their retirement accounts; and, he went on to say that they have resolved to commit their entire retirement savings to get the project off the ground. Just as, over the past year, several estimates have been given by the Hiesters as to the cost and scope of their aquarium attraction, it is not clear how prepared the Hiesters would be if things ended up costing more, or taking longer, to develop than originally thought.

“Up to this point in our lives, we’ve done what we had to do be successful; now, we have the opportunity to do something we’re very passionate about in a way that engages the community,” Hiester said. “It’s our way to give back, in a sense, to the community — and to share a true lifelong passion; we’re not afraid to put our money where our mouths are.”

The St Augustine Aquarium was an exhibitor at One Spark last week. Their exhibit placed second when judged in the science category. It was awarded a cash prize of $1,400. Unfortunately, the aquarium’s exhibit cost $20,000 to set up. Sounds like a match made in heaven for the City of St Augustine’s current administration.

Hiester is the principal of a private consulting firm, SPH Consulting. He is a former Haskell Co. employee.