D'IBERVILLE, MS (WLOX) - Within two years, you may be playing with dolphins just like the trainers are doing at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies. Land is being cleared off I-10 in D'iberville to make way for Ocean Expo, a $17 million venture.
"We have started," said IMMS director Dr. Moby Solangi. "It is going to happen, the funding is in place and we are absolutely excited."
The new aquarium will be much bigger than the old Marine Life in Gulfport, which was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
"It will be an interactive facility. People will be able to snorkel with the fish and other exotic animals, walk into butterfly exhibits, see dolphin and sea lion shows and get a kiss with a sea lion, pet a dolphin. So it will be a fascinating place."
When and if Ocean Expo opens in the spring of 2013, it may help to dissuade one popular perception about the Gulf Coast: that this is not a family destination.
"This will bring in, hopefully, anywhere from 300,000 to a million people a year that is maybe not even coming to the Gulf Coast because of no family oriented type entertainment," said D'Iberville Mayor Rusty Quave. "This will be the family oriented venue of the whole Gulf Coast, and the spin-off business will be overwhelming."
Right across the interstate, at the Promenade shopping center, the prospect of half million potential customers is very appealing to stores like Target. Judy Hoynowski works in Human Resources.
"For us, it will be a great opportunity to take care of more guests," Hoynowski said. "We've had a very successful two years here. We love our guests."
What's not to love when those guests can enjoy the company of the watery ambassadors of goodwill.
The City of D'iberville sold $4.5 million in bonds to purchase the property that will be home to the aquarium. Ocean Expo will sign a long term lease with the city for use of the property.
In addition, the city will pay for infrastructure improvements to the property, such as water and roads. That work will be paid for using tax increment financing, in which Ocean Expo would pay no property taxes for a certain number of years to finance those improvements.