City called ideal location for aquarium, research center
Victor G. Moffitt, former state representative from Coventry who ran as a Republican candidate for governor two years ago, wants to build an aquarium in Warwick.
This would be neither an inconsequential project, nor simply an attraction for tourists.
To build the facility – Oceans Aquarium Research and Science Center (OARS) – Moffitt said he is looking to raise about $100 million. It would initially consist of a 2 million-gallon figure-eight aquarium, costing $25 million, plus about 30 smaller tanks. Moffitt said the complex would serve as a research center for ocean and alternative energy technologies, a marine hospital and hatchery and a learn and play educational facility for kids.
“This would be a unique facility; the only one of its kind in the country,” Moffitt said.
While the aquarium would be an attraction, Moffitt said the core activities would be education and science. It would encourage technology companies to locate in the state and bring in tourists, he said.
Moffitt talked about his plan two years ago in his bid to become the Republican nominee for governor and has established a non-profit corporation and lined up a board of 15 experts in different areas.
His conviction is that the aquarium is best situated near the confluence of highway, rail and air transportation, which has brought him to Warwick. Moffitt and a team from OARS met with Mayor Scott Avedisian last week. Moffitt’s sights are set on the Station District and adjoining properties on Jefferson Boulevard.
Avedisian called the proposal “very exciting” yesterday, adding that it would bring another dimension to the district. Already, the Ocean State Theatre Co. is renovating the former Verizon garage on Jefferson Boulevard and Salve Regina University has opened a satellite operation on Metro Drive.
The mayor said he suggested six or seven potential sites in the city, not all of them within the station district, but “not all that far away.”
Moffitt said he’s looked at the Leviton property, with its more than 400,000 square feet of space. The former manufacturing facility, with its landmark Elizabeth Mills, was built in the late 1800s and is currently for sale.
Although it has not been confirmed by Leviton or the Kouffler Group and KGI Properties of Providence, which reportedly is looking to develop the property, the buildings, including the mill tower, are slated for demolition this year in order to save about $500,000 in property taxes.
Moffitt said the Leviton property is well situated and if OARS were able to obtain it, “we should be able to keep some of that building.”
Rocky Point might be a potential site – it once being suggested as an ideal location for an aquarium – and Moffitt said it offers potential but lacks the infrastructure. He would prefer to have it more accessible.
“They have never utilized Narragansett Bay for what it could be,” he said, and added that he would love to have it on the water. “Planning for the coastline hasn’t been that good.”
Kettle Point in East Providence was one of several locations considered, but that didn’t work out.
Moffitt envisions providing facilities for meetings, with two ballrooms with “break out” meeting rooms that turn into a major economic generator.
“Where are we going with 24-7 tables games?” he asked of referenda questions to allow Twin River and Newport Grand to become full-fledged casinos in an effort to stave off the possible loss of gaming revenues because of casinos in Massachusetts.
“If we don’t start planning for our future, the writing is on the wall,” he said. Moffitt said the state should develop new sources of income to replace what it will lose.
Beyond the idea of the aquarium and research center, Moffitt said it would be a good idea for Amtrak to move the Providence station to Warwick. He cites parking, easy access and the Interlink to Green Airport as reasons.
Moffitt said the concept for OARS came from a visit to the aquarium in Georgia four years ago. He sees the project as being more effective as being advanced by the private sector, not by government, although funding would come from a number of sources, including public and private grants.
He said his team includes volunteers directing various aspects of the project, including development, research and education. He hopes the money will start flowing when a location has been selected.
“This is about doing something good for Rhode Island,” he said.
Patrick Sharkey, who was curator of the Roger Williams Zoo until last October and worked for 10 years at Sea World, is serving on the board that met with the mayor.
Sharkey said once a site has been selected, the first step of the project would be the science and research center.
Those components he sees as being eligible for grants and enabling the group to “walk before it runs” and aims toward construction of the aquarium. Also, he envisions the center as being a hub for environmental groups as well as a facility for other institutions, such as URI, to conduct research.
“I believe it [the project] is very realistic,” he said. “It lines up a lot of pieces and creates a destination.”
Although not up to date, additional information is available on the OARS website: oceansaquarium.org.
According to the site, the aquarium will house five permanent aquatic exhibits, one for each of the five oceans: the Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic, Southern Ocean and Indian Ocean. In addition, rotating exhibits will focus on the seven seas of Planet Earth. It says the “Research and Science Center will attract scientists and researchers from around the world. Together with the World Class School of Oceanography at URI, the Ocean State will become a Mecca for ocean research.”
In addition, the center is described as “environmentally friendly” incorporating wind, solar and geothermal power in its design.