The South Carolina Aquarium is looking to make a big splash over the next 10 years.
The waterfront tourist attraction unveiled a $68.5 million master plan Thursday to transform the 11-year-old facility into a more visible, more inviting and more interactive venue.
Exhibits and other facets in the four-story building hugging the banks of the Cooper River will be moved around or eliminated, making room for new animal displays such as the lemur exhibit coming in March. Others new features include building a massive, new shark tank with an underwater tunnel over the loading dock and moving the sea turtle hospital to an area where visitors can see animal care firsthand.
Some features won’t require a ticket purchase. Those include a harbor-view cafe and gift shop near the entrance.
Aquarium officials are also talking with members of the National Park Service about recreating Liberty Square in front of the aquarium as a more inviting link to Concord Street and the planned International African-American Museum beside the parking garage.
The outside of the building could change as well. A glass-like awning is proposed to project across the expanse of the building’s front side while different architectural elements that could add a changing visual feature to the facade are under consideration as well.
It will probably be a year or so before the first phase of the ambitious plan is underway, but aquarium officials believe the changes are necessary to keep the debt-free attraction new and exciting.
Through increased attendance from popular exhibits such as penguins and an albino alligator, last year the facility paid off the remainder of the $69 million cost to construct the building, which opened in 2000.
“Now that we have satisfied our obligations to our debt and are in a sound financial position, it is only natural to look to our future,” Aquarium Chief Executive Kevin Mills said. “This plan gives us the opportunity to build upon the best of what we already do and to more fully engage our public in our mission of conservation and education.”
Read more in tomorrow’s editions of The Post and Courier.