FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. (WSVN) – A plan to bring a controversial multi-million dollar aquarium inside of a Fort Lauderdale mall has been scrapped.
SeaQuest’s proposed $5 million project at the Galleria Mall, that would have housed around 1,500 animals, will not continue as planned, 7News learned Tuesday.
In 2018, the Galleria Mall announced SeaQuest, a controversial interactive aquarium, would be coming to the city, and the move to bring the ocean indoors quickly made waves.
“It’s just a way to promote business at the expense of animals,” protester Ken Pelton said.
Animal activists protested outside the mall and city hall angry about allegations animals were mistreated and died at other SeaQuest locations across the country.
7News obtained early blueprints for the aquarium and petting zoo showing a shark touch tank, capybara/sloth enclosure, trout/duck tank and areas for a hedgehog, bearded dragon, pygmy goat and otters.
Fort Lauderdale gave SeaQuest the go-ahead in 2019, but activists sued to stop it, claiming the city’s permit approval process was flawed.
Over the summer, the Galleria Mall’s owner sued to evict SeaQuest, accusing it of breaching its lease after several companies filed liens claiming they were owed money for work on the project.
“It’s devastating,” Airmatic Controls owner Robert Harris said. “It makes it very difficult to stay in business.”
Vince Covino, SeaQuest’s CEO, said the company will not be opening in the Galleria Mall.
He said the COVID-19 pandemic took a big bite out of business at their other locations, so for now, the company’s yearslong quest to bring its aquarium to Fort Lauderdale is over.
“We decided to close it down, pack up and maybe revisit Fort Lauderdale SeaQuest in 2022 maybe,” Covino said. “Anywhere we go just with any zoo or aquarium, there are going to be animal rights activists that don’t believe in animals under human control. That was not much of an impact in this.”
PETA, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the city, called SeaQuest’s move to pull out of the mall a “major victory for animals.”
“SeaQuest saw the writing on the wall and decided to drop their doomed bid to open in Fort Lauderdale,” PETA spokesperson Michelle Sinnott said. “I think it was the pressure from PETA’s lawsuit, which was initiated almost two years ago, the pressure from overwhelming public opposition to this type of facility opening in Fort Lauderdale and I think COVID was just the final straw.”
Covino said every contractor who worked on the Galleria Mall project either has been paid or will be paid this week.
South Florida families who purchased the annual passes will get refunds if they request it.
Copyright 2020 Sunbeam Television Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.