Georgia Aquarium buys Florida's Marineland

On Jan. 1, the aquarium purchased the historic tourist attraction about 15 miles outside of St. Augustine, for a reported $9.1 million.

David Kimmel, president and chief operating officer of Georgia Aquarium, declined to confirm the amount of the sale, cited from public records in the Jacksonville Business Journal.

“I can’t comment on that, but the aquarium is excited about the acquisition because it provides us with a Florida coastal location to do additional research,” Kimmel said Monday.

A year and a half ago, the aquarium opened a $1.5 million Dolphin Conservation Field Station as a joint venture with Marineland’s Dolphin Conservation Center.

“We have four manta rays at Georgia Aquarium and three of them were caught off the coast of Marineland,” Kimmel said. “This has become a hub for us to go into the Atlantic.”

Kimmel said plans for Marineland, which will operate as a separate nonprofit but a division of the Georgia Aquarium organization, are for it to continue existing as an attraction.

“We’ll assess things more and more each day, but the idea is to continue enhancing what is currently Marineland,” Kimmel said.

The 73-year-old Florida tourist attraction, widely considered the world’s first oceanarium, originally opened as a movie studio used to film underwater sequences; in the pre-Disney World 1960s, Marineland attracted more than 300,000 visitors per year.

Since then, the park, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has experienced numerous swings in popularity.

Marineland celebrated a rebirth in the early 2000s after Atlanta developer Jim Jacoby, a member of the Georgia Aquarium board, bought the aquatic park. After suffering years of deteriorating conditions caused by hurricanes and age, Marineland closed in 2004 and re-opened in 2006 as a polished dolphin attraction and educational facility.

While the park retains its historical cachet, its attendance numbers are still dwarfed by other competing Florida attractions.

According to the Jacksonville Business Journal, 66,143 people visited Marineland in 2009.

“People sometimes forget that it’s here,” said Kurt Allen, vice president and general manager of the facility. “We’d like to be able to bring Marineland back to the attention of the people, to make sure people know it’s open and it’s here because one thing it does is provide a unique, intimate experience.”

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