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Tampa Bay Lightning Owner Jeff Vinik partners with Dreamit to promote urban tech in Tampa

Tampa could be poised to attract urban technology firms from around the globe as a result of a recent partnership between Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and the New York-based startup accelerator Dreamit.

The partnership will take advantage of the ongoing development efforts by Vinik's Strategic Property Partners to attract and incubate companies with technology solutions in the areas of real estate, infrastructure and urban living.

With SPP’s plans to invest $3 billion into the development of nine to 10 million square feet across nearly 55 acres in the next 10 years, the Tampa Bay area has a head start when it comes to becoming an urban tech magnet, Dreamit CEO and Managing Partner Avi Savar says.

 “That natural resource becomes kind of the chum in the water to attract startups from around the world that are investing their time, energy and attention to solving the challenges that are facing cities across the world,” he says.

According to a news release from Dreamit, record growth is occurring across the state and in the Tampa Bay area. Just last year, over 60,000 residents moved to the region -- emphasizing the need for urban technology when creating modern cities.

"As our city develops and prepares for a bright future, I am pleased to partner with Dreamit in this UrbanTech initiative," said Jeff Vinik in a news release. "I am confident we will identify and create avenues of success for startups dedicated to building and enriching cities."

As a business accelerator, Dreamit looks for companies with ideas that have already begun to be proven and are ready to progress beyond the startup phase. For its Tampa endeavor, Dreamit will be searching for businesses offering “anything that will help accelerate and innovate the city tomorrow,” Savar says.

The partnership with Vinik in Tampa creates a rare opportunity to build a totally new city with an emphasis on the latest technology in urban development.

“There are very few places in the world where you get to come in on the ground floor and help build a city,” Savar says.


New St. Petersburg College library will serve students, community

A new library is under construction on the St. Petersburg College Clearwater Campus.

SPC and the City of Clearwater have partnered to develop the joint-use facility where students can focus on the academic pursuits and residents can enjoy cultural enrichment opportunities. It replaces the current library built in 1964.

"The campus’s existing library is over 50 years old and reflects the needs of college students half a century ago," says Dr. Stan Vittetoe, SPC Clearwater Campus Provost. "Current students need more collaborative study spaces and technology resources."

Construction on the new 43,515-square-foot library began in June. The building will stand two stories tall and include an open-space concept. The $15 million facility will house more than 90,000 electronic and print books. It is expected to be complete in February 2018.

“St. Petersburg College is committed to the communities where our students and faculty live,” SPC President Bill Law says in a prepared statement. “This partnership allows the college and the City of Clearwater to serve the needs of our citizens and students in one place.”

SPC operates two other joint-use libraries in Pinellas County with the cities of St. Petersburg and Seminole.

The new library is the latest representation of SPC's growth. In the last decade, enrollment has increased by 23 percent, Shaw says. This semester, there are 9,936 students enrolled at the Clearwater campus, and about 66 percent of them will attend classes face-to-face.

The college now has more than 100 academic programs in Business, Information Technology, Education, Health, Paralegal Studies and many other fields. An Ethics and Social Sciences building with 26 classrooms opened in 2013, and a Math and Science building opened in 2008.

Port Tampa Bay begins using massive new cranes

If you're traveling near Port Tampa Bay, you might see two newly commissioned gantry cranes in action.
 
The cranes, which weigh 1,600 tons each, were officially brought into service on Friday, July 22. They're used for loading and unloading cargo containers from container ships, and they'll allow the Port to expand and diversify its cargo business by serving wider ships that travel through the expanded Panama Canal.
 
The new cranes can lift 65 tons. That's 25 more tons than the three 42-year-old gantry cranes that were previously used at the port. They stand 300 feet high and have a 174-foot outreach, allowing the Port to handle ships nearly twice the size of ships it could handle before.
 
The cranes were manufactured in China, arrived at the port in April, and then went through testing and certification.
 
"It's great to unveil these beautiful new cranes to our customers and the community, following a seamless and exciting period of getting them ready for container operations," says Port Tampa Bay CEO Paul Anderson in a July 22 news release.
 
The Port's vision is to be the container gateway of west and central Florida, according to the release. The idea is to serve the growing Interstate-4 Corridor between Tampa and Orlando, and the Port has been marketing its increased capability to global shipping companies.
 
Port Tampa Bay, the state of Florida and terminal operator Ports America invested $24 million into the new equipment, including $11 million for each of the cranes, and another $2 million in infrastructure improvements and spare parts. Ports America will operate the cranes.
 
"It's truly a milestone for the port as we realize this tremendous capital investment and begin to see the generational benefits for the economy," Anderson says.

Dade City experiences new investments in downtown

Dade City, known for its quaint downtown and small town charm, is experiencing quite a development boom. 
 
New city hall and police station
 
One of the biggest projects recently unveiled is a new municipal complex. The 22,000-square-foot building located on Meridian Avenue houses both city hall and the police department. Paid for with reserve funds, the $6.6 million project makes life easier for residents and government employees alike.
 
“Employees are now under one roof,” says Dade City Manager Bill Poe. “Previously city hall staff were in two separate buildings, which caused citizens, developers and visitors to often have to go between buildings to accomplish a simple task.”
 
In addition to streamlining things by having all of the offices in the same location, the project also involved implementing new technology into the police department. Upgrades include state-of-the-art forensics room, a secure sally port, new interview rooms and a safe room for victims.
 
Poe says other city projects are on the horizon including an extension of the Hardy Trail, Beauchamp Pond expansion and downtown storm water improvements.
 
Flint Creek Outfitters
 
This is the second store in Florida for the outdoor specialty shop, with its other location in Ocala. One of the newer proprietors in Dade City, Flint Creek Outfitters is located at 14129 7th St. The store not only offers an array of camping and fishing products, but a lifestyle. With guided trips, monthly fly fishing competitions and owners with a rich history living with nature, the store promises to take you on an adventure. 
 
Shoppes of Dade City
 
When the first Publix in Dade City opened last year, it became the anchor of The Shoppes at Dade City, a strip plaza managed by Crossman & Company. With a total of 54,000-square-feet of retail property the plaza has a plenty of space for business owners. Aside from the Publix, there is a nail salon and a Chinese restaurant already open.
 
Other developments taking place around town include a new medical practice at Meridian and 10th Street, which is currently under construction. Florida Hospital Zephyrhills has obtained a permit for the space, however no other details are available at this time.

Tampa Bay area colleges add buildings designed for the future

As college students settle in for the Spring semester at campuses around the Tampa Bay area, many of the college grounds in the region are under construction to make way for the future.

USF St. Petersburg

The University of South Florida-St Petersburg (USFSP) recently broke ground on the Kate Tiedemann College of Business building. The building located on the downtown St. Petersburg campus will be designed to enhance the learning experience for business students.

“The new building will house an accelerator lab for its entrepreneurship program where students can develop startups and work with local entrepreneurs,” says Gary Patterson, interim Dean and Professor of Finance at the Kate Tiedemann College of Business. “We will also provide a consumer insight lab where marketing students can conduct focus group studies. The building offers USFSP the infrastructure needed to improve the services to our students and community partners.”

Patterson says the building, which will cost upwards of $29 million, will allow students the ability to congregate in one location.

“Currently the students, faculty and staff are spread across eight buildings at USF St. Petersburg,” he says. “Students will finally have a home, and the new building will allow them to work on group projects in the break-out rooms found throughout the building.” 

The Kate Tiedemann College of Business building is expected to open Fall 2016.

University of Tampa

To ensure not only a healthy mind, but healthy body too, the University of Tampa is building a new fitness center. Scheduled to open Spring 2016, the 40,000-square-feet, two-story building will have exercise programs, personal training and evaluation, intra-murals, club sports and a room dedicated for spinning classes.

In addition to the expenditure of the building, the University is purchasing a large number of treadmills, stationary bikes, elliptical trainers and free weights for the fitness center.

Eckerd College

Students interested in the arts rejoiced when the college recently announced plans to replace its Ransom Arts Center with a new visual arts building. The Ransom Arts Center, which has been a staple at the main campus since the 1970s, was torn down.

The new building has yet to be named, but will be approximately 34,000-square-feet, quite an upgrade from the original 18,000-square-feet. With the extra space, students can expect more video and photography space, a green screen and more space for a dark room.

Construction started last month and is expected to be completed in two years.

Tech company in Tampa invests $1M in expansion, 45 new jobs

As the growing list of tech companies based in the Tampa Bay area gets longer, one company that has called Tampa home for over a decade has big plans for its future. SunView Software, Inc., founded in 2003, is investing $1-million into expanding its headquarters located at 10210 Highland Manor Drive in Tampa.
 
“We are adding 6,000-square-feet of office space to the existing headquarters in the Highland Oaks office complex,” says John Prestridge, VP of marketing and products for SunView Software, Inc. “We are building out a modern workspace for the expansion designed to enhance collaboration and teamwork for the expanding SunView team.”
 
He goes on to say that higher sales and continued product innovation have contributed to the robust growth and need for more space. With the extra space, Prestridge says, the company plans on hiring 45 new employees. Positions include software development, services, support, marketing and sales.
 
The company received help from the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation in expediting the permitting process to get the expansion plans on the fast track.
 
“Hillsborough County’s burgeoning information technology industry is a major point of pride for this community,” says Lesley “Les” Miller, chairman of the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners in a news release. “Our formidable group of technology entrepreneurs, increasing numbers of highly skilled IT talent, and excellent business climate and quality of life are all helping to position us as one of the most desirable tech destinations in the country.”
 
Sunview Software joins several other technology companies that are also expanding their Tampa Bay headquarters including, Accusoft, BlueGrace Logistics, Connectwise, Hivelocity, ReliaQuest and Tribridge.

Smart Gigabit Community coming to Pasco County, first in U.S.

A developing neighborhood in Pasco County will have the distinction of being the first planned “Smart Gigabit Community” in the United States to be built from the ground up.

Tampa-based Metro Development Group, which has developed planned communities that utilize the latest innovative technologies across the state of Florida since 2003, will drive planning and development for the new “Connected City Corridor.”

Innovation group US Ignite, which was established in cooperation with the National Science Foundation and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, designated the area a “Smart Gigabit Community.”

The nonprofit group will work with MDG, which has also developed a partnership with Pasco County, on the project.

Mike Lawson, Director of Land Development for MDG, praised the project for being “the first of its kind in the country.”

Lawson, who is working together with MDG VP of Operations Kartik Goyani to lead the “Connected City” team, “values the opportunity to work with US Ignite” to plan the project.

The “Connected City Corridor” will be located between Wesley Chapel and San Antonio in southeast Pasco County. Preliminary development work for the new community, located in a special planning area bordered by State Road 52, I-75, Curley Road and Overpass Road, began in late 2015.

Areas called Epperson Ranch, Cannon Ranch and Ashley Groves will be built up as residential developments part of the new community.

The Connected City project will be unique from the few other “Smart Gigabit Communities” in the U.S.  because those cities, such as Kansas City and Cleveland, were retrofitted with Gigabit Internet access; the new Florida community will be planned around a fiber network that provides Gigabit Internet access from the start.

“This project gives Metro Development and Pasco County the possibility to create a better future that will accommodate what's next in connectivity,” Lawson says.

Additionally, Lawson says, the Connected City Corridor is expected to “create economic development for the area, with new businesses and residents moving to the area.” 

Based on results in other connected cities, the area is poised to attract businesses, retailers and residents. Along with new services and Gigabit applications, US Ignite will work with MDG and Pasco County officials to make the new community visible to tech-savvy companies who may be looking for a new location.

“Gigabit technology is transforming the business landscape around the country, and this new community will be one of Florida’s top destinations for companies looking for the advantages this connectivity can provide,” Goyani said in a press release.

SPC receives funding for Bay Pines STEM Learning Center

With funding from the state in the amount of $2.5 million, St. Petersburg College (SPC) is building a new learning center for students interested in science, technology, engineering and math.

Last year, SPC received money to fund the new building from the Florida Legislature Public Education Capital Outlay to complete the college's Bay Pines STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Learning Center in the Madiera Beach area. It is close to both the Bay Pines VA Hospital and Madiera Beach Fundamental School.

The $4.7 million building will serve many purposes for the community.

“The center will have SPC classes, professional development activities for Pinellas County school teachers and others, community group activities, marine and environmental independent research being carried out by SPC students, secondary school students, and students from other colleges around the area,” says John Chapin, Dean of natural sciences at SPC. “It will also be the site for summer camps for various groups underserved in the STEM areas, and a site to partner with other colleges/universities in the area on STEM related projects.”

According to Chapin, SPC's Bay Pines STEM Learning Center will be 10,000-square-feet. It will have two multipurpose lab rooms each holding 24 students, three independent research areas and one large multipurpose room that will seat up to 100 people.

“The lab rooms are very flexible and will support both lab-based and classroom-based activities.”

The building is scheduled to undergo construction in December and is expected to be completed by the end of next year.

Priatek Plaza name stands tall in St. Pete

One of the most notable high-rise commercial buildings in downtown St. Petersburg has been renamed. One Progress Plaza is now known as Priatek Plaza.
 
The building is named after one of the tenants, Priatek, a performance-based digital signage company.
 
Known for its “UGot2Play” kiosks, which can be found in malls, stores and airports, the media company offers clients advertising through prize promotions via the kiosks.
 
“I came up with the name Priatek as sort of an acronym for prize and advertising technologies,” says Milind Bharvirkar, president of Priatek. “Also, Pria, which is my second daughter’s first name, means beloved, so when you put it together Priatek really means beloved technology.”
 
For Bharvirkar it really is beloved technology, as Priatek was a brainchild built out of his home in Lutz and now is a successful business venture that employs 15 people and occupies 8,000-square-feet on the tower’s 23rd floor.
 
So why did Bharvirkar choose St. Petersburg for his headquarters? The answer is simple: competition and job candidates.
 
“The Tampa Bay area is a media mecca with Nielsen, HSN and Clear Channel, to name a few,” he says. It gives us the opportunity to compete and even partner with these companies. Also, there is a tech movement happening in this area, and with that brings great talent.”
 
Talent is something that Bharvirkar will be looking for as he plans to expand his empire. He says the space where the company currently resides can accommodate up to 50 people, which means adding to the headcount will not be an issue.
 
“I don’t have a timeline at this point, we will make adjustments and hire when we need to, however I do foresee us growing and hiring in the near future,” he says. “As we grow, there will be a need for jobs here in engineering, media, sales, operations and administration. Job creation is definitely on the horizon.”

Downtown Tampa quiet zone silences train horns with FDOT grant funds

Downtown Tampa and Channelside residents will rest a little easier in coming months, thanks to a $1.35 million grant from the Florida Department of Transportation.

Trains travel through Tampa on a daily basis, and their horns “are a nuisance,” says Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Train horns are sounded in compliance with federal rules and regulations, which require a train to blast its horn for 15 to 20 seconds at any public crossing. As a result, the loud but legally mandatory horns are “bouncing off the buildings throughout downtown, bothering residents and impacting our economic opportunity as our urban core continues to densify," Buckhorn says.

In fact, the sound of train horns in downtown Tampa has been such a sore subject among residents that some have turned to a Facebook page, called “Help Tampa Sleep,'' to address the topic in a public forum.

Back in August 2014, the city contracted King Engineering Associates to study the development of a “quiet zone” in downtown Tampa.

Buckhorn’s staff reached out to the FDOT to seek information about quiet zones after learning that Florida Gov. Rick Scott was to include quiet zone funding in the state budget. The funds, awarded to the City of Tampa through FDOT’s Quiet Zone Grant program, will be used to create the “quiet zone” along CSX railroad tracks throughout downtown Tampa -- meaning trains will no longer blare their horns in the middle of the night as they pass through town.   

State funding will not cover the entire cost of creating a “quiet zone” in the middle of downtown Tampa -- the anticipated cost for the projects is $2.7 million. FDOT grants will provide up to half the cost of creating quiet zones. The projected improvements are expected to begin in summer 2015.

To silence train horns in downtown Tampa, the City of Tampa must meet “quiet zone” safety requirements established by the Federal Railroad Administration. The project will include the upgrade of nine public highway-rail crossings through downtown Tampa -- from North Jefferson Street to Doyle Carlton Drive -- with additional gating, street medians and signage. 

“Downtown residents and businesses can coexist with the trains, and a quiet zone allows us to strike that balance,” Buckhorn says.

Some citizens are concerned with the solution, however. Gasparilla Interactive Festival Executive Director Vinny Tafuro, a downtown resident, says that he is "hopeful that the project successfully quiets the horns," but is also "concerned with the aesthetics of how the crossings will look, and the reality of the CSX engineers actually following the guidelines and not blowing the horns."

"As a fan of innovative technology, I would prefer a long-term solution that improved on a loud horn as a warning," Tafuro says. "Seems archaic."

In fact, the Train Quiet Zone rules do stipulate that a train horn may be blown in a "quiet zone" during emergency situations.

To view the grant application and award, please visit the City of Tampa’s website or click here. To learn more about the Train Horn Rule as well as Train Quiet Zones, visit the Federal Railroad Administration's website.

Architectural photography contest open in Tampa

Calling all architectural photography artists!

The American Institute of Architects Tampa Bay along with the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts present the annual 2015 Architectural Photography Contest.

Top Tampa Bay entries will be exhibited at FMoPA during the museum’s National Architecture Week and beyond, from April 12th-May 3rd, 2015.

All Florida residents are invited to enter the 2015 Architectural Photography Contest. Photo subject matter must have an architectural theme or must contain some element of the built environment.

The competition, which is eligible to amateur photographers and the general public to compete for cash prizes, includes two juried categories: Amateurs and Professionals. 

 Amateur category cash awards are:
  • First Place - $300
  • Second Place - $200
  • Third Place - $100
Entry fees: $40 for AIA members and FMoPA members; $50 for non-members, and $25 for students.

Professional photographers, meanwhile, are not eligible for prize money. However, professional photographers are welcome to participate for the chance to have their work displayed at FMoPA, a popular downtown Tampa destination for the arts.

Contest entrants may submit up to five photos per entry fee, via Dropbox upload. Entrants are also required to submit one image for the Architectural Photography Show. See contest rules for details.

Entries must have been taken and owned by the entrant. Registration must be completed by 5 pm on March 27th.

Digital file upload and printed image drop-off must be completed by 5 pm on April 1st at the AIA Tampa Bay Chapter Office, located at 200 North Tampa Street in Tampa, Florida.

For additional information visit AIA’s website or call 813.229.3411. 

Tech Data Expands Clearwater Headquarters

A new 45,000-square-foot office building at the campus headquarters of Tech Data Corp. signals a renewed faith in keeping the Fortune 500 company's roots planted in Clearwater.

Founded 40 years ago, the Clearwater-based company is one of the  world's leading distributors of technology products made by companies such as Apple and Microsoft.  It operates in 100 countries and had about $26.8 billion in sales for fiscal year 2014, which ended on Jan. 31.

It wasn't a certainty that Tech Data would decide to stay when the topic of expansion came up.

Company officials did explore relocating but CEO Robert Dutkowsky says,"We decided to double down on Tampa Bay. I would think the community would take a deep breath and say Tech Data is committed to being here."

Tech Data employs about 9,000 people worldwide, with about 1,700 in Clearwater. The new facility "will accommodate additional office and meeting space, allowing us to operate more efficiently into the foreseeable future," according to an email from company spokeswoman Amanda Lee.

The new wing is adjacent to the approximately 240,000-square-foot headquarters building on Tech Data's campus, located north of the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport at 16202 Bay Vista Drive.

St. Petersburg-based Hennessy Construction Services is the contractor for the facility.

As a major force in the technology industry and the largest public company in Tampa Bay, Tech Data can attract talent from Tampa Bay as well as worldwide, Dutkowsky says.

 Clearwater also is a factor in recruiting candidates, he adds. "This is a beautiful place to raise a family and to work and live."

Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Robert Dutkowsky and Amanda Lee, Tech Data

HCC's SouthShore Campus Adds Science And Technology Building

Enrollment at Hillsborough Community College SouthShore Campus has far exceeded expectations since opening day in 2008 in Ruskin.

More than 6,500 students attend classes on a campus built on a 100-year-old tomato field donated by the Dickman family. That is a 7 percent increase over the previous year.

More than a year and a half ago, 15 portable classrooms were set up to handle the overflow. That is about to change. School officials are breaking ground at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday on a two-story, 36,424-square-foot Science and Technology Building at 551 24th St. in Ruskin.

"It has been truly amazing," says HCC SouthShore's President Allen Witt. “The new building will allow for the space to move out of portables and continue growth.”

The college is looking to hire for part-time and advisory positions. Interviews are planned to hire four faculty members. "We're in a hiring mode,'' Witt says.

Construction is scheduled for completion in May 2015. The new science and technology center will have nine laboratories, five prep labs, two computer classrooms, six traditional classrooms, four offices and a dean's suite.

Student enrollment, at least for now, is not expected to slow. Currently, SouthShore's enrollment is about 10 percent of approximately 46,000 students who attend HCC's five campuses and three centers throughout the county.

Witt can look out of his office window to understand the reason.

"I can see the top of Amazon.com's (building) just above the trees," he says. Also nearby new houses are under construction.

Amazon is expected to hire about 1,000 people in the next few months. The rising rooftops also will bring more families to the southeastern end of the county. "Things are happening here so very fast," Witt says. "We're all going to be catching up with infrastructure related to the new needs."

SouthShore plans to hold onto to all but about one-third of its portables as back-up plan if they are still needed in future years.

But the opening of the science and technology building means SouthShore is taking the next step in its academic growth plan.

“We pride ourselves as a STEM campus serving our local community with outstanding educational resources," Witt says. "This new science building will help us serve our students well into the future with the best technology and classroom space.”

Existing buildings at SouthShore are LEED-certified as eco-friendly and green. This new building also will meet the national certification standards established by the U.S. Green Building Council. 

Construction on the approximately $9.8 million project includes architects Reynolds Smith and Hills, civil engineer Stantec,  consultants with Volt Air and construction manager Cutler Associates.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Allen Witt, HCC Southshore

HART MetroRapid North-South To Begin Services In Hillsborough

A new HART system aims to speed up connections from downtown Tampa to northern parts of Hillsborough County.

HART's MetroRapid will begin operations on Tuesday, May 28th, improving travel along selected service corridors, increasing service reliability and speed of transit. HART Public Information Officer Marcia Mejia says the system will make transit use easier for Hillsborough County residents.

“Added features like ticket vending machines will provide travel time savings because you don't have to wait for folks to pay on board,” Mejia says. “Riders will buy their tickets at the machines and just board directly.”

In addition to ticket vending machines, some of the system's new features include fewer stops; improved travel time, including 10-minute frequencies; GPS-enabled signal prioritization which will hold green lights longer and shorten red lights for the sleek new HART vehicles; and real-time display boards, allowing travelers to know when buses will be arriving.

The first rapid transit system in the area, the North-South MetroRapid will run north along Nebraska Avenue from the downtown neighborhoods and east on Fletcher Avenue to Telecom Park, west of Interstate 75; the area totals a 17.5 mile corridor.

According to Mejia, several studies were done before MetroRapid was planned, showing that the North-South corridor is one of the busiest with ridership activity.

Construction began on the North-South MetroRapid project in August 2013, totaling approximately $31 million, while the traffic signal priority project is cost an estimated $2 million. HART reported that the project came in under budget by $5.7 million, which will be reallocated back into Hillsborough County for infrastructure needs, if desired.

Both projects were paid for by Hillsborough County Community Investment Tax (CIT).

“Ridership continues (to increase) for HART, and has been for the past several years," Mejia says. "With this form of rapid transit being introduced, we're on track to meet transportation needs for residents of the county."

Currently, HART is continuing to make progress and expand the MetroRapid services, including the the East-West project which will connect Tampa International Airport, the Westshore Business District and the HART Netpark bus transfer center at Hillsborough Avenue and 56th Street; the 16.4-mile East-West route will also include connections to the North-South Line at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Marcia Mejia, HART

Construction Begins On Marine Exploration Center, Aquarium In Madeira Beach

The 25-year-old St. Petersburg Pier Aquarium is moving, expanding and rebranding, bringing the new Secrets of the Sea Marine Exploration Center and Aquarium concept to John's Pass Village in Madeira Beach.

Slated to open by November 2013, Secrets of the Sea will be the anchor attraction at John's Pass Village on Gulf Boulevard and 129th Avenue in Madeira Beach, featuring a broader, more technology-focused marine exploration concept.

Construction on the 13,500-square-foot, approximately $4 million facility began on April 23rd.

“The Pier Aquarium has been bursting at the seams for a long time while the public's interest in the ocean environment, cutting-edge technology and marine science continues to grow,” says Pier Aquarium President and CEO Howard Rutherford of the 2,000-square-foot St. Pete facility. “The unknown future of The Pier created an extraordinary opportunity for a bold, new approach to the Aquarium's mission.”

The Pier Aquarium will close on May 31.

Rutherford plans for Secrets of the Sea to become one of an epicenter for marine research and one of Madeira Beach's premier attractions, bringing the public together with state-of-the-art marine research, innovation and technology interactive experiences.

Various marine-related activities, aquariums, galleries and exhibits developed by the St. Petersburg Ocean Team will focus on research concepts in a fun, explanatory fashion; exhibits include Essential Estuaries, Touch Tampa Bay, Fish at Risk, Corals on Acid, Crustacean Station and Moon Jellyfish.

Local design-build team Biltmore Construction and Harvard Jolly Architects are working on the construction of the two-story structure with Lexington Design and Fabrication designing and building innovative Mystery Stations throughout the center, showcasing how several sea habitats and lifeforms are benefiting from some of the ocean's unsolved mysteries.

“We hope to create a new generation of environmental stewards,” Rutherford says.

A public/private partnership between John's Pass Village owner AEGON USA Realty Advisors, Enterprise Florida's State Small Business Credit Initiative and a local lender, the new aquarium space was recently endorsed by Madeira Beach Mayor Travis Palladeno.

Additionally, a collective hotel partnership called the Secrets Premier Hotelier Group has been instrumental in helping Secrets of the Seas achieve its capital campaign target to begin construction, agreeing to provide in excess of $100,000 over the next five years in support of the new marine attraction.

The partnership includes TradeWinds Island Resort and Guy Harvey Outpost, St. Pete Beach Sirata Beach Resort and Conference Center, Lowes Don CeSar Hotel, Postcard Inn, Dolphin Beach Resort, Bilmar Beach Resort, Grand Plaza Resort Hotel, Alden Suites, Sunset Vistas Beachfront Suites, Beachcomber Beach Resort and Hotel, Plaza Beach Resorts and Barefoot Beach Hotel.

Secrets of the Sea is expected to generate nearly 250,000 visitors annually and pump $8 million into the local economy, reaching more than 40,000 students from six different countries.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Howard Rutherford, Pier Aquarium
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