CONCORD, N.C. -- Concord Mills is adding an aquarium to its list of attractions.
On Tuesday, a “wave-breaking” ceremony was held to officially break ground on the SEA LIFE Charlotte-Concord Aquarium.
City and community leaders joined members of the London-based Merlin Entertainments Group to celebrate the start of the project.
The 25,000 square foot aquarium will be the sixth aquarium of its kind to open in the U.S. An additional 10,000 square feet has been set aside onsite for future expansion.
Within 21 displays, the aquarium will house more than 5,000 marine creatures, including sharks, stingrays, seahorses and jellyfish.
Displays Curator David Cochran says there will be a 180 degree, underground ocean tunnel and plenty of areas for children, including an interactive touch pool.
“It will be manned by an educator where visitors can touch different invertebrates, sea urchins, sea stars, horse shoe crabs. We’re definitely all about full immersion and the overall experience,” says Cochran.
The main feature is a 12-foot deep aquarium with 117,000 gallons of saltwater. Educational programs and feeding schedules will also be offered. Each site will incorporate the marine life regionally, from the freshwaters of the Catawba River, to salt waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
“We’re about education and taking people on a journey,” says James Paulding, Head of Opening for the North America team at Merlin Entertainments Group.
Merlin has 45 aquariums around the world and 19 attractions in the US, including Legoland Resorts. Paulding says it just made sense to open the group’s sixth SEALIFE Aquarium in the US at Concord Mills.
“The mall here is the #1 visitor’s attraction for the region. So there are a lot of people coming here already. In terms of the area becoming a destination, it works well for us. We are not looking at this as a whole day for people. We’re looking at it as a 90 minute to two hour experience that changes yearly,” he said.
Keeping the displays fresh yearlong will ensure new activities and repeat visitors.
"I think we have developed exit 49 as a destination and it's good. We've got infrastructure and they realized this would be the place,” said Mayor J. Scott Padgett.
Mayor Padgett says the city did offer a three year business incentive, but anticipates 50 newly created jobs and economic impact will be substantial. He also hopes Merlin’s expansion includes a Legoland theme attraction built onsite at the aquarium.