The Western Hemisphere’s biggest aquarium broke ground Sept. 11 and construction is starting on its Expansion 2020 project, which will encompass one of its largest exhibits. A 1 million-gallon shark tank at the Georgia Aquarium will contain the ocean’s apex predators, eight types of sharks at the top of the ocean’s food chain – several of which are not in captivity anywhere else.
The new exhibit is expected to add hammerheads, sand tiger sharks and sandbar sharks to the whale sharks, as well as other species not announced yet. In addition to the new shark exhibit, there will be a new entrance with enhanced ticketing services.
Construction began last week on the main entrance into the plaza, featuring new digital signage, the aquarium reported. The redesigned entryway will provide a covered queue for guests, while also introducing a separate entrance for field trips and classes via Baker Street.
The regular entrance is open and will remain uninterrupted throughout construction, although demolition has been underway on the exterior of the building for several months.
Expansion 2020 is expected to cost more than $100 million and open in November of 2020. The shark tank expansion will bring the aquarium’s total tank volume to 13 million gallons and will add more than 45,000 square feet, including existing space being used for the expansion.
At last week’s ground breaking, Aquarium CEO Mike Leven recognized the aquarium’s 400 employees and 1,000 volunteers, more than half of whom have been with the attraction since it opened in 2005.
Leven also thanked Bernie and Billi Marcus, who created the aquarium as a thank you to the city of Atlanta, the state of Georgia and the first customers of Home Depot.
“By creating the aquarium, Bernie wanted to create something the average Georgian could come to and afford to do.”
On Aug. 29, Invest Atlanta, the city’s development authority, voted 4-3 to donate $7.5 million from a special tax fund to the aquarium expansion. The fund returns tax money to community growth projects. The aquarium will receive the money over seven years.
Bernie Marcus thanked the former and current mayors, Shirley Franklin and Keisha Lance Bottoms, for their recent support and as the aquarium was built and growing.
When Bottoms spoke, she noted how the aquarium is one of the examples of how business, community and government can come together for the betterment of the city.
Joe Handy, Aquarium president and chief operating officer, has told the community that as part of the new exhibit, there will be a number of animal interactions and immersions that will allow visitors to get even closer to these misunderstood species. The new gallery will feature floor-to-ceiling acrylic windows to give guests the best view of the animals.
The Georgia Aquarium has the world’s largest self-contained tank with 6.4 million gallons; and the largest acrylic viewing window in the Western Hemisphere – 27 feet high, 64 feet across and 2 feet thick. Last year, the Georgia Aquarium attracted 2.4 million visitors. ■