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5-acre site purchased for St. Augustine Aquarium

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – Shawn and Kathy Hiester announced Wednesday their purchase of a 5-acre site for their new St. Augustine Aquarium, Snorkel Adventure and Zip Line project.

Located at 2045 State Road 16 in St. Augustine, the wooded site is seven-tenths of a mile east of Interstate 95 and the State Road 16 interchange.

"We love the location because it is close to I-95 and the busy St. Augustine (Premium Outlets), yet retains its natural feel with lots of beautiful trees," said Kathy Hiester.

The Aquarium project is a privately funded public aquarium. It will be constructed in two phases: Phase I consists of an 80,000 gallon outdoor Snorkel Adventure along with a Zip Line and Adventure Course. Phase II will add an additional 180,000 gallons and 40,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor exhibit space housing an assortment of Florida marine species.

To highlight St. Augustine's rich maritime heritage, a recreated 17th century shipwreck will be featured in the main exhibit alongside sand tiger, bonnethead and blacknose sharks, as well as rays, eels and a host of reef fish. Shark Cage Encounters will give guests the chance to dive with sharks in the main habitat. There will also be an interactive Stingray Experience that provides guests the opportunity to get up close, touch and feed cownose rays.

Seventy species and over 1,000 fish will be on display at the Aquarium.

The Zip Line and Adventure Course will include an assortment of aerial elements with multiple courses to suit skill levels from beginner to advanced. The tree canopy will be utilized for the majority of the elements and includes a zip line over live sharks in the Shark Lagoon.

A full-service family restaurant will join the aquarium on the site. In addition to lunch and dinner, the restaurant will provide food service for weddings, parties and special events at the aquarium.

"St. Johns County is excited to have a new multi-purpose interactive aquarium project be built that our residents and visitors alike will enjoy," said Melissa Glasgow, economic development director for the county. "This project will be a welcome addition to the attractions industry base and help create new jobs and attract new tourism dollars to the county."

The Hiester and their team have been working on this project for 2 1/2 years. Now that the land has been secured, design and construction will move along quickly, officials said. Phase I will break ground in early 2015 and will open to the public in the spring.

The remainder of the project is expected to open in summer 2016.

The mission of the St. Augustine Aquarium is Conservation Through Education. According to founder Shawn Hiester, an avid scuba diver, "We know that once people have the chance to experience the magic of the undersea world, they will understand how critically important it is for all of us to protect it."

For more information, go to www.saaquarium.com.