Investment in $33.5 million aquarium for Cairns
PLANS for a $33.5 million aquarium in the heart of Cairns have taken a giant leap forward after the project's developers bought a 4000sq m block of land just a stone's throw from the city's popular Esplanade tourist strip.
Trinity Beach business partners Daniel Leipnik and Andrew Preston bought the land from the owners of the Novotel Cairns Oasis Resort, bounded by Abbott, Florence and Lake streets, for $2 million.
"Buying this land shows our commitment to the Cairns aquarium," Mr Leipnik, who is the chief executive officer of Cairns Aquarium and Reef Research Centre Pty Ltd, said.
"We are very excited. The passion for this is our driving force. It is our primary love."
Expressions of interest for the design and development will close on March 15, and the Cairns Aquarium opening date is set for late 2016. Mr Leipnik said specialists behind aquariums in Melbourne, Sydney, Mooloolaba, Korea, Dubai and Singapore were being targeted for the design and development.
He said, apart from the aquarium designers, almost everything else involved in the building, including construction, supplies, marine life, website designs and signs, would be sourced from the Far North.
An estimated 250 people would be employed on the project, including 150 construction workers, nearly 80 full-time operational staff and up to 25 volunteers.
The businessmen have committed $15 million to the aquarium with the balance from private investors and local, state and federal government funding with applications before the three levels of government.
Independent research suggests between 355,000 and 360,000 visitors a year but the proponents are aiming for up to 500,000.
Mr Preston said the designers were being urged to provide something "innovative and unique" for Cairns.
"It will be a very spectacular, natural and iconic building with a wow factor," he said.
The ground floor will contain two "gigantic" tanks containing a million litres-plus of water. One would be a mini Great Barrier Reef and the other a freshwater lagoon.
There will be five main themes of dangers of the deep (sharks, irukandji, box jellyfish, stonefish, pufferfish and sea snakes), river monsters (sawfish, giant barramundi, freshwater stingrays, lungfish and crocodiles), reptiles and amphibians, mountain streams and rivers and life in the mangroves.
The mature mango trees and a eucalyptus tree on the site would be retained and be part of a Daintree-style boardwalk and mangrove lagoon feature.
The businessmen have signed a memorandum of understanding with the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre and are negotiating one with James Cook University.
They said they had previously negotiated with Ports North for waterfront land, as well as considering Cairns Regional Council property, but decided to buy their own.
Danny Betros of CBRE Cairns, who negotiated the deal, said the land was surplus to the needs of the hotel and the sale was another sign of confidence in the city's economy.
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Out to make a splash: Trinity Beach business partners Andrew Preston and Daniel Leipnik have bought a 4000sq m block in the Cairns CBD for an aquarium. Picture: BRENDAN FRANCIS