D'IBERVILLE, MS (WLOX) - Dr. Moby Solangi can't say when construction might begin on the $70 million to $80 million Ocean Expo that was envisioned as a big tourist attraction. The city of D'Iberville has already spent millions on the deal, but the project is at a standstill.
Spirits were high on December 9, 2011 when D'Iberville city officials broke ground on the Ocean Expo Aquarium and Learning Center off Interstate 10. But the only thing that has risen from the ground since that ceremony have been two large piles of dirt.
"The city has purchased the property; we've spent $4 million. The building should have been constructed by now," said City Manager Bobby Eleuterius.
"We should be paying that debt service off with ticket sales, and it's not even started."
Eleuterius said now Solangi has asked D'Iberville to buy about $2 million worth of property so the aquarium can be moved further away from the noise of the interstate. Though the city committed to building water lines from the bay to the aquarium, Eleuterius said the city isn't ready to spend more money on a project that seems to be going nowhere.
"We have emailed Mr. Solangi about a possible meeting by the end of this week to discuss what his intentions are."
"The city was committed to getting a sound barrier, additional land and a water pipe line and the project hasn't moved because some of the infrastructure they had to provide has not been provided," said Solangi.
Is Solangi committed to building the aquarium project in D'Iberville? City officials question that.
"We're hearing things that he may be moving, locating to other areas in Biloxi or in Gulfport," Eleuterius said.
"So until we actually have a meeting or sit down with him and get a confirmation one way or the other. If not, we're going to move forward because we have other people interested in the site, and if he's not going to move forward, we will."
The aquarium site is attractive for development. D'Iberville has turned the Interstate 10 – Interstate 110 intersection into a business Mecca. Eleuterius even said the company behind the Atlanta Aquarium has contacted the city about the location.
Since D'Iberville owns the land, Eleuterius said city leaders are obligated to make sure it's profitable.
"The money that we have spent will definitely be recouped. We will not lose any money on that property," said Eleuterius.
"We definitely plan to build an aquarium. There's no questions, ands, ifs or buts," said Solangi.
"It's a big project. It takes a lot of time, energy and effort."
Solangi wouldn't directly answer whether he's considering a new location for his aquarium project, and it's unclear whether that's even a possibility since the funding is a combination of public and private money.
"So naturally we want to see something work. But if it doesn't work, we'll have to look at options," said Solangi.
Solangi told me he received the email from the city asking for a meeting, but couldn't meet this week. He plans to sit down with D'Iberville city officials sometime next week.
WLOX will have an update when it happens.