St. Augustine aquarium to open in 2015

Couple spends $8M to fund project

By Tarik Minor - Anchor, I-TEAM reporter

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - The mysteries of the ocean are about to come to the surface in what could be St. Augustine's newest tourist attraction.

Plans are in the works for the city's first privately funded aquarium for 2015. It will be located at Riberia Point, which is south of the downtown tourist district.

Shawn and Kathy Hiester, the couple behind it all, is spending $8 million of their own money to fund the project.

"Since I was a kid, I was always fascinated with the undersea world," Shawn said.

He and Kathy said they both have a deep passion for marine life in the Atlantic Ocean. Their plan is to bring the underwater world of the ocean to the surface in tanks, some of them hands-on exhibits.

"We'll have sand tiger sharks, blacknose sharks, nurse sharks and bonnethead sharks, eels, rays, barracudas," Shawn said.

They are designing a 43,000-square-foot indoor and outdoor facility. The aquarium's theme will be Shipwreck Reef.

"If you fell off a boat anywhere in coastal Florida, what you would find in the water is what we'll have in our aquarium, minus dolphins, whales," Kathy said.

The Hiesters' goal is to not only help people to learn about marine life, but also to expand St. Augustine's tourism industry.

"We're happy to have the trolley, the carriage," Shawn said.

A children's museum funded by another private source is also being planned on the same site. Locals and visitors say the two will enrich the tourist experience, which drives the local economy.

"I think it would be a great idea, revenue to this area and traffic," said Steve Veescovin, of St. Augustine Bike Rental.

"I think both adults and children would enjoy a facility like this. It's a great history here," tourist Lynn Boyce said.

It's a facility the Hiesters say will revolve around conservation and education.

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