There’s a buzz about a new project happening in town.
“It’s a really good project for Jacksonville,” Ponte Vedra Beach resident Scott Grant said. “It’s one of the coolest things you’ll ever see. When it opens, you’re going to love it.”
Grant is the chairman of the Advancement Committee for the nonprofit organization, Aqua Jax, and the project he’s referring to is the potential construction of the new Atlantic Aquarium in Jacksonville.
With a vision to break ground in 2021 at the Shipyards, the Atlantic Aquarium aims to be the coming attraction of Jacksonville. With a state-of-the-art structure and cutting-edge, eco-friendly technology, the Atlantic Aquarium would not only be a new form of entertainment, but also a new and interactive way to educate the community.
“We absolutely want to study water, climate, weather and wildlife and we absolutely want to be on the cutting edge of renewable energy,” Grant said. There is even talk of pumping water from the Atlantic Ocean into the aquarium, cleaning it, and pumping it back out to the ocean in better quality than it came in.”
Young great white sharks and manatees are confirmed to be part of aquarium exhibits, with penguins being a huge possibility, according to the deputy director of the Jacksonville Zoo. Most marine mammals, however, such as dolphins and whales will not be held in captivity as it is considered inhumane and unethical, Grant said, with the exception of therapy dolphins that will be available to Wounded Warriors and those suffering from PTSD trauma.
Grant refers to the aquarium as the “Solar-Powered Stingray,” in reference to the solar panels on the wings of the diagram.
Grant manages investments for a living and is a firm believer that investing in this “solar-powered stingray” is well worth it and has the potential to generate about a billion dollars over 10 years.
“The talk right now is building it at the shipyards and when we build it, that whole area will revitalize before your very eyes,” Grant said. “I mean hotels, restaurants, firms, businesses, everybody’s going to want to be there because of this iconic structure on the St. Johns.”
And new businesses mean new employment opportunities. Aside from job openings within the aquarium gift shop and cafes, jobs will open for marine biologists, ecologists and other environmental experts, Grant said.
“This is 20 million dollars worth of payroll. This is a big deal,” Grant said, emphasizing the potential impact this will have on the city. “Eighty-eight million people come to Florida every year on vacation. 3.2 million of that come to Jacksonville. That’s a huge potential market for us.”
With Grant’s confidence and determination, it’s no wonder he was hired as chair of advancement, but how is he so sure about this project?
“We have some advantages here that most cities don’t,” Grant said. “I mean, we’re sitting on a major river right next to the Atlantic. We have opportunities to study aquatic life and different waters. And there are actual dolphins that come into the St. Johns. Wow, I never thought about that, free-range dolphins. Swimming right off the edge of this thing.”
Another advantage is honestly, Scott Grant, himself. A fellow “Carpetbagging Yankee,” as he likes to say, Grant moved to Jacksonville 14 years ago and wants to see it evolve. The countless research and case studies he’s looked into all show signs of growth and prosperity.
“Dubuque, Iowa has a population of 95,000 and has 480,000 visitors to their aquarium every year,” he said. “It worked in Chattanooga. It worked in Corpus Christi and it worked in the National Aquarium in Baltimore.”
Grant’s positive mentality is a huge ego-booster for the city.
“There are two points I can’t emphasize enough,” he said. “One is that this thing has to be the coolest thing that anybody’s ever seen. The other is that the biggest impediment is sort of that Jacksonville mentality of, ‘Oh, it’ll never get done. It’s just another one of them pipedreams.’ I’m brought on board predominantly to fight that and say, ‘Yeah, look, we can do this.’ And we can.”
Grant is focused and has the determination to make this aquarium happen, but what he doesn’t have yet is the proper funding and he’s not shy to discuss it.
“Right now, I need money,” he said. “Wells Fargo, for example, gives away $485 million a year. I can’t go there and say, ‘Look at this cool picture. Give me $200 million, and I’ll build it.’ I need to go in and really have something. I talked to a videographer last night. He wants to do a 3D virtual walkthrough, which would be huge. Haskell did those drawings for free, but people are going to want to get paid for 3D, virtual walkthroughs.”
The completion of the Atlantic Aquarium is still years away, but the beginning is coming at full speed thanks to Grant and Aqua Jax. After endless discussions of what’s next for Jacksonville, it’s refreshing to see someone who has done the research, the planning and stands with assurance that this will get done.
“If you blow people’s minds, the people will come in droves,” Grant said passionately. “This is going to blow people’s minds for sure. It has to.”