Downsize for $36m Lyall Bay aquarium

Last updated 05:00 25/03/2014

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Plans for an ambitious $36 million aquarium in Lyall Bay have been downsized.

The proposal for the three-storey Te Moana-Ocean Exploration Centre at the disused Maranui depot site was presented to the Wellington City Council last year.

It featured an 8-metre-high kelp forest and a walk-through whale skeleton among the planned exhibits.

But, in a submission being presented on the council's draft annual plan tomorrow, the Wellington Marine Trust says it now has a scaled-back project costing "a more modest and achievable" sum of about $15m.

The decision to downsize was made after it became clear it would be too difficult to raise the funds, particularly the $17m wanted from central government.

Trust chairman Victor Anderlini said yesterday the scaled-back project would be more manageable and would allow the project to get under way sooner.

"Let's get it started . . . then it can grow." The revised design was still being developed but concessions include reducing to a single-storey building.

There would still be a smaller kelp forest, a sanctuary for little blue penguins would be shifted to within the outdoor exhibitions, and a walk-through whale skeleton would not be a permanent feature, but might be included in a changing exhibition space.

Planned outdoor exhibits would remain.

Trust director Judy Hutt said she was "hoping like mad" that space could still be found in the budget for a jellyfish tunnel.

The smaller project would be more manageable, and would fill a gap in the natural attraction market in Wellington, which had nothing celebrating the ocean, she said. "It's smaller, it's manageable and it's Wellington-sized."

Dr Anderlini said the core aspects of the original vision were still there.

The project would be contingent on council backing, in order to get the buy-in required from the Crown and social backers, he said.

Trade Me founder Sam Morgan is among the backers who put their names to the project last year.

The submission said the trust would seek resource consent funding from the council, and capital funding from social backers and central government, while the council's contribution would be land, site preparation and infrastructure.

Dr Anderlini did not know yet how much the consent process would cost. A new business case and design would be presented to councillors next month, he said.

Council environment committee chairwoman Iona Pannett called the new proposal sensible and said it would be easier to get backing at the more modest size.

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- The Dominion Post


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