DAYTONA BEACH — City officials are hoping the $2.7 million transformation of an old Burlington Coat Factory store into an attraction with large fish-filled aquariums, exotic birds, mammals and reptiles will spark development in a part of town that badly needs it.
Wilbur-by-the-Sea resident Cliff Grosvenor, who also owns an aquarium business in Pennsylvania, is already renovating the vacant building on the northwest corner of International Speedway Boulevard and Nova Road. He hopes to open the new attraction by the end of the year or in early 2024.
He’s calling it the Daytona Aquarium & Rainforest Adventure.
Grosvenor, whose fascination with animals traces back to when he was in high school and ran a pet store, is leasing about 55,000 square feet of the empty 70,000-square-foot store space facing International Speedway Boulevard. If the aquarium becomes a draw for people looking for something fun to do, the remaining 15,000 square feet in the building Grosvenor won’t be using could attract more tenants.
But before anything gets finalized, Grosvenor’s rental space needs to be rezoned. Property owner Andrew Podray has the planned development zoning he wants on the northern half of the former shopping center, and now he needs that zoning on the southern half.
The rezoning request is working its way through Daytona Beach City Hall and needs approval by the city’s Planning Board and City Commission.
A 110,000-gallon aquarium?
Grosvenor opened the Electric City Aquarium & Reptile Den in Scranton, Pennsylvania, five years ago. The Daytona Beach aquarium will be much bigger, and it will be built out in phases.
Rather than one huge aquarium, the attraction will have about 40 separate tanks that will not interconnect to keep predator fish away from prey. One of the larger tanks will have about 110,000 gallons of water to give sharks plenty of room to swim around.
He also plans to create a stingray touch pool.
Habitats will be created for reptiles including alligators and crocodiles, and amphibians such as frogs. One room in the facility will be devoted to snakes.
There will also be an indoor rainforest with bushes, trees, rocks, sloths, armadillos and Toucans.
The attraction will house various types of birds, but they won’t be in cages, Grosvenor stressed. He will instead build glass enclosures for birds, he said.
He’ll have an educational room with space for about 200 people, and that room will host events about four times a day, Grosvenor said.
He hopes to eventually have a grassy outdoor area on the west side of the building that people could walk through and see rainforest animals that need daylight. He would also like to have a café onsite someday.
Grosvenor already has a building permit from the city. He’ll also need to secure any permits and licenses required by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission required for businesses that possess, sell or exhibit native or non-native birds, amphibians, mammals or reptiles.
A possible economic boost
Details including admission prices and hours of operation will come when the facility gets closer to opening.
Grosvenor said he’ll be holding environmental fundraisers from time to time, such as raising money for the preservation and restoration of rainforests. He said in the past he raised money to help in the battle against wildfires in Australia.
His displays will include coral reefs, and he said he might propagate coral reefs at the Daytona Beach site to help the struggling reefs around the Florida Keys.
The Daytona Aquarium and Rainforest Adventure will be across the street from Daytona Beach’s impoverished Midtown neighborhood. It’s an area that’s struggled to attract new development for decades, and city leaders hope the new animal and nature attraction will help.
“That’s definitely something needed in that area,” said Michael Stallworth, the city’s manager of business enterprises.
“It will certainly be a destination for individuals to take advantage of opportunities in our community,” said city redevelopment director Ken Thomas.
Thomas remembers when the mall was full of stores 30 years ago when he was a college student.
Cathy Washington’s memory of the property goes back even further. The 73-year-old remembers when a small drive-in theater was on the site back when that was Daytona Beach’s western edge.
In later years it became the home of a Winn-Dixie grocery store, and a strip mall filled in next door with a shoe store and drug store. Eventually, the Winn-Dixie was torn down, and a Zayre discount store was built in its place.
By the 1990s it was a mall with a movie theater, she said.
When she was told about the new project, she liked what she heard.
“I think that would be an awesome idea,” said Washington, a member of both the city’s Midtown Redevelopment Board and Planning Board. “That would be educational and something different.”
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Mayor Derrick Henry also welcomes the new aquarium and called it “great news.” He’s glad to see an older building in the city’s core getting repurposed, something he hopes to see more of.
“Obviously it’s ideal for what you need to revitalize,” he said. “It’ll have visibility off International Speedway Boulevard. People on their way to the beach can add it to their agenda. I’m excited about the possibility of having it come to life.”
You can reach Eileen at Eileen.Zaffiro@news-jrnl.com