Sea Life invests in freshwater exhibit

In March the Sea Life Aquarium, located at Grapevine Mills, announced a new 3,500-square-foot exhibit called “Rainforest Adventure,” which will take guests on a tour through the Amazon, will open this summer.

“The main species we are bringing in are the piranha, the caiman crocodile and the anaconda,” said Kelly Schwartz, head of marketing for the Sea Life Aquarium. “There is also a variety of other freshwater fish that will go in the Amazon River gallery.”

The $750,000 exhibit represents the largest capital investment the aquarium has made since it opened in 2011, Schwartz said.

“The new ‘Rainforest Adventure’ exhibit will recreate extraordinary natural environments with exciting architectural elements, creating a highly immersive experience for visitors,” wrote Iain Scouller, Sea Life regional general manager, in a news release.

The new exhibit is replacing the former “Freshwater Lakes” exhibit. Schwartz said in order to temporarily replace “Freshwater Lakes” while the new exhibit is being installed, guests will get a “behind-the-scenes” tour of the facility and see where the staff work, laboratories and the top of the oceans tank where the sharks are fed.

Schwartz said the aquarium is an important asset for the community as a whole, as it sets Grapevine apart from other cities in North Texas and helps draw visitors to the area. She said approximately 70 percent of aquarium visitors are from outside of Grapevine.

RaDonna Hessel, CEO of the Grapevine Chamber of Commerce, said the aquarium is an attraction and educational opportunity for all ages, which helps bring in visitors from throughout the country. In return the visitors drive tax revenue for the city, she said.

“This is a very unique attraction that draws in visitors from not only Texas, but from surrounding states,” Hessel said. “People of any age can come and enjoy the aquarium, that’s the best part.”

New additions

The new exhibit is bringing about 500 additional creatures to the aquarium, meaning that about 3,500 animals will call the aquarium home when it opens.

Anaconda and piranha are regulated species in the U.S. In order to import the anaconda and piranha planned for the exhibit, the aquarium had to apply for special permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

According to Karen Rifenbury, the curator for Sea Life Aquarium, the permit for the piranha was the first the aquarium obtained for the exhibit and was approved last fall. The permit for the anaconda has not yet been received, but typically takes 60 to 90 days to be approved, Schwartz said.

Mall renovations

The work at the aquarium is occurring at the same time as a larger

$40 million overhaul of Grapevine Mills, which includes new flooring, and restrooms and a new paint scheme.

According to Joe Szymaszek, general manager of Grapevine Mills, the renovation is the mall’s first since it opened in 1997. The renovation is expected to be complete by November.

According to Grapevine’s 2014 financial report, the mall pulled in about

15 million visitors, and the city pulled in about 20 million visitors. According to Dan Truex, Grapevine’s economic development manager, getting those people to visit multiple times is key.

“We want to increase how many times people visit Grapevine each year, because that increases the amount of retail sales, and [the sales tax] goes to the city’s coffers,” said Truex. “Sales tax benefits all of the citizens of Grapevine.”

A 2012 economic study on the mall conducted for the city found the mall was responsible for 1 in 10 jobs in the city and had pulled in about $47.7 million in tax revenue since it opened.

Truex said the fact that the mall and all of its tenants are investing in renovations is good news for the city.

“Any time that you refresh or expand retail stores or attractions, you bring in more people, and you keep it entertaining for the kids.”


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