Florida Aquarium


701 Channelside Drive
Tampa, FL 33602

Census Tract


Poverty Rate


Median Income


Total Project Cost


Federal NMTC Financing


State NMTC Financing FL)


Project Completion

florida aquarium


Originally known as the Clearwater Marine Science Center (CMSC), a private non-profit educational organization located on Clearwater Beach, Florida was incorporated in 1977 and by the mid 80’s plans were put in place to expand the center, emphasizing the need for a world-class facility in order to successfully compete as a nationally recognized educational facility in the Florida marketplace, and thus, become financially viable. In 1986 The Florida Aquarium, Inc. was formed and a conceptual design for the new edifice was born. The decision was made to build in the emerging Garrison Seaport Center, an area of downtown Tampa’s waterfront that was undergoing major redevelopment. Educational outreach programs were held throughout the community to create awareness for the project during the time of construction. Located in what is now known as the Channel District, at the time of opening in 1995, the area was an unnamed, run-down part of the port with few surrounding amenities. The high-rise hotels, condominiums and cruise ship berths were years away. On March 31, 1995, The Florida Aquarium opened its doors, serving one million residents of and visitors to the Tampa Bay area and bringing a positive economic impact of $60-million to the community in its first year of operation. 

UDF’s investment in The Florida Aquarium was used to finance a part of an expansion project for the Florida Aquarium’s $15M Rising Tides Capital Campaign which kicked off in 2012. The overall project increased the aquarium with 35,000 square feet of new space and 10,000 square feet of renovated space, including the lobby and main entrance. This project is the end of a successful capital campaign which started in the heart of the worst recession the country has ever had. 

Part of this project consisted of adding on a 7,500-square-foot event center. The event center is designed to draw groups looking for space in downtown Tampa. This fills a much needed capability for the Aquarium whose weddings and event business has skyrocketed in recent years. 250 events are held there annually, and the project expanded the Florida Aquarium’s event facility from a 150-seat room to a massive 8,000-square-foot event area which can seat up to 600 people for conventions, seminars, weddings and other special events. The revenue earned from hosting events helps to fund the non-profit Aquarium’s mission based initiatives including the rescue and rehabilitation of animals and coral propagation work. The enlargement also included major changes to The Florida Aquarium’s learning center, doubling its square footage from 2,000 to 4,000 square feet of space. This center draws tens of thousands of students yearly for learning about marine science in themed classrooms and a fully equipped laboratory with touch tanks, Wi-Fi and live video conference capabilities to allow students to interact with researchers in the field and scientists and other students from around the world. 

With a signature 80-foot glass roof that calls to mind a seashell, the Florida Aquarium is a three-story facility with 153,000 square feet of public exhibit space, classrooms, a 200-seat auditorium, restaurant, community room, a 3,700 square foot gift shop, event space as well as curatorial, maintenance, and engineering space. The main facilities occupy a 4.3-acre swath of waterfront property as well as a 20,000 square foot offsite administrative and office space funded by the Florida Aquarium’s Rising Tides Campaign. The facility is currently home to more than 20,000 aquatic plants and animals from Florida and all over the world. The Florida Aquarium began as the Clearwater Marine Science Center (CMSC), a private non-profit educational organization located on Clearwater Beach,Florida and was incorporated in 1977. The Florida Aquarium is a 501(c)3 nonprofit institution whose mission is to entertain, educate and inspire stewardship about our natural environment. The Florida Aquarium was first accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) in March 1997. It is ranked as one of the best aquariums in the country and top 5 kid-friendly aquariums by Parents Magazine.

Project Financing

UDF provided loans to the project totaling $6 million. UDF was able to administer subordinate financing to the project at advantageous terms including interest-only for the 7-year terms, below- market interest rates, and lower-than standard origination fees. Without the NMTC, the project had been unable to fill a funding gap to complete construction. UDF’s financing filled the gap at terms that were unavailable from other lenders.

Community Impact

The property is located in an especially distressed area with 29.1% poverty and median income 63.9% of the benchmark. It is located in the Channel District Redevelopment Area. As such, it is part of a comprehensive plan developed by the City of Tampa to revitalize the Channel District, which had suffered from decades of steady decline. 

The Aquarium provides numerous benefits to the surrounding low-income community. It partners with the local school system to provide educational programs and visits for elementary school aged children. The Aquarium provides 10,000 Title I sponsored admissions to the facility for qualifying individuals. The policy of the Aquarium is that ticket price should not be an impediment to use of the facility by the public, and they actively work with individuals to ensure the community has access to the facility. The facility increases the jobs available in the surrounding community not only thru direct job creation,but also indirectly through the various tourism support businesses created by the Aquarium. The Florida Aquarium is providing another surge to the rising tide of the Channel District,creating an environment to bring more people downtown. The Aquarium is the cornerstone in all of this and it is known as the building that changed Downtown Tampa. 

The Aquarium is a LEED certified facility, and further creates environmentally friendly outcome through The Center for Conservation, which is a lead institute addressing the challenges facing Florida aquatic ecosystems, utilizing the expertise of The Florida Aquarium’s staff and volunteers Expanding the facility brought about the ability for the Aquarium to enhance their education outreach and affords greater revenues that help fund the aquarium’s primary mission: education and the rescue and rehabilitation of marine animals. The redevelopment significantly increases revenues for the facility, which currently receives an annual $500,000 stipend from Tampa taxpayers. The events and learning center additions and changes not only transform the structural look of the Aquarium but are an instrumental piece in the transformation of the Channel District providing an additional resource and commitment to the growing community

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