April 20, 2019

Portland likely site of aquarium> Congressional OK needed for 10-year-old project

PORTLAND — Maine’s largest city would be the site of the $42 million Gulf of Maine Aquarium under a plan to be officially announced Wednesday.

The aquarium would take the site of the U.S. Naval Reserve Pier on Commercial Street and pay to relocate the offices. It would lease more land from the U.S. Coast Guard to make way for a 70,000-square-foot aquarium.

The deal, which requires congressional approval, would end months of speculation over where the aquarium would be built. Aquarium supporters say the site selection is a critical step because it brings the 10-year-old project closer to reality.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done, but it’s a significant accomplishment,” said Donald W. Perkins Jr., president of the Gulf of Maine Aquarium Development Corp.

But the announcement of a location is also likely to renew debate at the city and state levels over who should pay for the aquarium.

Aquarium supporters appear before state lawmakers Friday to argue their case for a $12 million bond to help fund the project.

Aquarium supporters have long maintained that they will need state and local funding, as well as private donations, to build the facility. To bolster their argument, they say the aquarium would draw 850,000 visitors each year, pump $26 million a year into local shops, restaurants, theaters and hotels, and generate $2.4 million in annual income- and sales-tax revenue.

But they still could face opposition from northern Maine lawmakers who object to spending money on a project that would clearly benefit southern Maine — especially Portland.

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