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Aquarium chooses builder for $130 million project

Willis A. Smith Construction President and CEO David Sessions says project will have 'worldwide recognition because of its cutting-edge design.

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  • | 7:56 a.m. May 17, 2019
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The proposed $130 million Mote Science Education Aquarium will be 110,000 square feet.
The proposed $130 million Mote Science Education Aquarium will be 110,000 square feet.
  • Manatee-Sarasota
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LAKEWOOD RANCH — Lakewood Ranch builder Willis A. Smith Construction has scored a major victory, in being named part of the builder team for the $130 million Mote Science Education Aquarium.

Forming a partnership with Orlando's Whiting-Turner Contracting, which has built a reputation as one of the nation's leading builders of aquariums, the Willis Smith/Whiting-Turner team rose above two other finalists, according to a story in the East County Observer, sister paper of the Business Observer. The announcement was made May 16 on the fifth floor of the Nathan Benderson Park finish tower in Sarasota, near the planned site of the new aquarium. 

"It's going to be a truly iconic building," said Michael Crosby, Mote's president and CEO, at the announcement. "It's going to be holding more than a million gallons of water."

The building is planned for 110,000 square feet on the grounds of Nathan Benderson Park, off University Parkway, west of Interstate 75. A small barge was doing site work Thursday on the water adjacent to the finish tower where the aquarium ultimately will sit. Representatives from Willis Smith and Whiting-Turner say no date has been set to begin construction as they had just found out they had won the contract.

"This is an enormous project, the biggest thing Mote has built," Crosby says. "It will be one of the biggest projects ever in this area."

Mote, which has operated a facility, for research and visitors, for years near downtown Sarasota, formed a board sub-committee to consider builders and chose the bid that would generate the most local impact. Crosby said the committee was impressed with Whiting-Turner's work on previous aquariums along with Willis Smith's major southwest Florida projects along with its many eco-friendly projects.

"This (aquarium) will not just be recognized locally," says David Sessions, Willis Smith's president and CEO. "It will have world-wide recognition because of its cutting-edge design."



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