Advocacy group believes aquarium would provide much-needed lift for downtown |

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Advocacy group believes aquarium would provide much-needed lift for downtown
 Advocacy group believes aquarium would provide much-needed lift for downtown

      For civic officials and business leaders in Jacksonville, the problem has never been getting people to come to downtown. The problem has been getting them to stop and visit.

         Each year millions of visitors pass through the heart of downtown en route to various destinations south. But only a small percentage actually stop in Jacksonville.

       “We are seeing a troubling trend,” said George Harrell, president of AquaJax, a local advocacy group. “While there has been a significant increase of visitors to Florida in recent years, we have actually had a decrease of visitors to Jacksonville.

      “The long-term health of our city, its restaurants, shops, hotels and other businesses, is dependent upon us drawing people here. We know downtown Jacksonville has much to offer. It is a beautiful, unique coastal city. Our challenge is getting people to see it and experience it for themselves.”

      Harrell, and other advocates for downtown, believe they figured out the best way to attract more people to Jacksonville: build a state-of-the-art aquarium at Metropolitan Park, which is on the river, near downtown and easily accessible from I-95 and I-10.

     “AquaJax did extensive research to see how other cities have dealt with a similar challenge,” Harrell said. “We have seen how aquariums in Baltimore, Chattanooga, Corpus Christi and Dubeque, Iowa, have revitalized downtown districts and spurred new development and business.”

        Initial plans call for a 150,000-square-foot aquarium that would feature both fresh water and salt water species, as well as reptiles that thrive in the surrounding region.

      Advocates for a new aquarium point out that combination ticket packages could include visits to the zoo or a river cruise, thereby cross-promoting other Jacksonville attractions. The area around the aquarium would be a great gathering place and venue for artists, musicians, crafters, food vendors, while attracting hotels, restaurants, residential and other entertainment establishments.

      “This could be the game-changer we have been seeking for Jacksonville,” said Brad Huber, president of Brad Huber Real Estate and AquaJax executive team member.  “An aquarium has the potential to provide significant benefits in a number of areas, from boosting the local economy to providing educational opportunities for our children, and also supporting for our natural resources.”

       In addition to AquaJax, plans for an aquarium in Jacksonville is being supported by the board and executive team of the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, Jacksonville University, University of North Florida, Paul Astleford, president/CEO of Visit Jacksonville and the Beaches; Dan Maloney, deputy director of Conservation and Education at the Jacksonville Zoo; and Aundra Wallace, president of the Jacksonville Downtown Investment Authority.

     “We have seen what adding an aquarium has done for other cities around the nation,” Harrell said. “With all the traffic that passes through Jacksonville, we have a built-in advantage. Now, we just need to give people a reason to stop and see all we have to offer.”

             AquaJax needs community support. AquaJax will be presenting at One Spark on April 9th-13th. Come by the booth at the Downtown Jacksonville Library, and vote for an Aquarium in Jacksonville, by voting for AquaJax. Contact or Visit their Facebook page at

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