By summer of 2017, new life will have been breathed into the Barnwell Center on the Shreveport riverfront.

Aquarium 2
Photo: Angela Thomas

A company called Planet Aqua Group has chosen Shreveport out of 11 cities to locate its new aquarium. Mayor Ollie Tyler said it's been very difficult to keep a secret this big for this long, and she credits her staff and the city council for helping get this project over the goal line.

"The Red River is one of our greatest natural resources and this aquarium further positions us to enhance the development of the riverfront, which is a focus of this administration," Tyler said. "We've had our challenges over the past year with the rising flood waters, but we are beginning to see the sun again on the Red River."

The mayor said the project will create an educational synergy between the aquarium and Sci-Port, which will be unique for our region.

The first step came with a public-private partnership with Dave Smith at EAP - Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program - to convince Jon Whitehead to locate the aquarium here.

"Planet Aqua Group could have gone to a lot of cities," Smith said. "But because of our community, we gave him the best offer of all of those cities. They're going to start their flagship aquarium right here in Shreveport, and then we're gonna take this national."

Whitehead said this new aquarium will feature hands-on learning, with interactive exhibits called 'touch experiences' -- where guests will get to touch live jellyfish, stingrays or starfish. Because the iconic Barnwell Center is near and dear to many in the community, the integrity of the building will remain, but the intention is for it to have a lower carbon footprint.

"In keeping with the conservation messaging that will run throughout the aquarium, we plan to build this facility as a LEED project," Whitehead said. "LEED is leadership in energy and environmental design. So we've been working with local architects, designers, contractors, engineers, to build a very sustainable, high-efficiency building."

Whitehead said this also enables the company to use the building as a teaching tool. Some of the techniques that will be employed will be transferrable to people's homes and businesses.

The project has a total budget of $4.3-million and will create 45 new jobs, some full-time and some part-time. The city council will introduce this at its meeting next week, and we're told it will get three reads before final approval.

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