For a landlocked desert state, Utah apparently has a deep-pocketed love of the underwater world.
Draper city and several other donors raised $24 million to finance the new Loveland Living Planet Aquarium, currently under construction at 12033 S. Lone Peak Parkway in Draper. The new world-class building will feature larger exhibits, more spacious wildlife enclosures, banquet rooms and educational centers.
The construction, which began in November of 2012, is spearheaded by contractor Tom Stuart Construction. After an initially choppy start due to the unforgiving winter, the aquarium company spokesman John Ragan said the structure is moving along quickly.
"We plan on having the walls up and to be ready for the interior work by June 15," Ragan said. "We have a tentative schedule to be open by December of this year. We'll have teams of different contractors working on different features to get the interior stuff done quickly."
The 136,000-square-foot structure will cost $24 million by completion, and has been funded by bonds, state funds and private donations. Angie Hyde, Loveland Life Center's director of public relations, said the ability to raise the money demonstrates Utah's excitement for the new aquatic playground.
"We started at the Gateway Mall in 2004," Hyde said. "That was a preview exhibit to get people excited and start the funding process for something like the new place, and it worked. We outgrew that one in a year and a half, ended up in Sandy, and by 2010 we'd outgrown that facility, too."
Hyde said the expansion of the 43,000-square-foot Sandy aquarium was at a standstill; there was simply no more room for their plans. The dozen new species for the Draper location have been stored in a warehouse to prevent overcrowding.
As of April, the company is focusing on the 40-by-80-foot shark tank as well as an Amazonian species exhibit and penguin enclosure. The shark exhibit alone will hold 300,000 gallons of water, 20 times more than its counterpart at the Sandy location. The aquarium will be larger than the Denver Downtown Aquarium, one of the largest aquatic exhibits between Chicago's Shedd Aquarium and the multiple locations in California.
The building is planned not only as a wildlife home but a social-gathering option and educational facility.
"With the banquet hall, we're going to bring in so many more weddings and proms and family reunions," Hyde said. "We're going to be able to educate more students; we'll have three large classrooms equipped with lots of equipment. It's so exciting."
The Sandy location will be closed during the move to the Draper aquarium but remain open until Sept. 8.
The Loveland Living Planet Aquarium has been funded by a mix of bonds, state funds and private donations.
$14 million from Draper City bond
$6 million from private donors
$2 million allocation from Utah State Legislature
$2 million from the Loveland Family Foundation
Source: Loveland Life Center