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Aquarium one step closer

GULFPORT (AP) — The budget for the Mississippi Aquarium downtown has jumped 15 percent in less than six months, to a total of almost $93 million, according to a budget document the City Council unanimously approved Tuesday afternoon.

In August, expenses were estimated at $64.5 million for land acquisition, design, construction, consulting, operations, staffing, equipment and other items. The budget does not include purchase of aquarium animals, estimated at $20 million.

The council also unanimously approved the first construction contract for the aquarium. W.C. Fore Trucking Inc. submitted the low bid to demolish two buildings and complete other work.

“I think we’re right on schedule,” said Carole Lynn Meadows, who chairs the Gulfport Redevelopment Commission, which is overseeing the project. “With the site package approval today, things will really get started.

“We’re going to begin seeing some dirt brought in and some buildings demolished. It’s going to take on a life of its own. People are going to see it’s real. I think they thought it was a pipe dream.

“The project, and what it is going to mean to Gulfport and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, is another ‘why’ people will come to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It’s a situation in which a rising tide lifts all boats. The more venues we have for families, visitors and local people to enjoy, the more they will come.”

Land costs were $14.5 million for about 9 acres overlooking the waterfront on U.S. 90, which includes space for a hotel and other amenities. The city guaranteed a loan to buy the land.

As construction begins, the city plans to permanently close 22nd and 21st avenues south of 15th Street, and 14th Street between 22nd and 21st. The streets eventually will become part of the aquarium grounds.