Ben Daughtry knows all about catching and selling fish to private and commercial aquarium owners around the world. Now the Dynasty Marine Associates part-owner's dream of building a hands-on "interactive-based public aquarium" appears to be coming to fruition in Marathon.
More than eight years after initial City Council approval, Daughtry and Dynasty founder Forrest Young are set to start construction at the attraction's 117th Street and U.S. 1 gulfside site.
"The main thing was really financing, and we were able to get financing with a bank and move forward 100 percent. It's going to happen fast; we'll be putting poles up as early as next week," Daughtry said.
Daughtry and Young hosted a brief groundbreaking ceremony Monday afternoon, where Daughtry explained the main attraction would be a 175,000-gallon above-ground aquarium.
"It'll stand about 9 feet tall and there will be four windows that will be [6 feet by 8 feet] that you'll be able to look into, and then there will be a deck that comes up around it," he said, reiterating that the key is interactivity with marine life.
"You'll be able to touch, feed and swim with all the different things we're going to put in here," he said.
The 9-acre property, much of which is wetland, features a horseshow-shaped canal that Daughtry said he hopes to use in the future.
"For over a year now, we've been cleaning up the muck in this canal, so we've dredged that out and we're going to use that as a holding area for different animals," he said. "If we can get [it] cleaned up as much as I'd like to, we may do swim interactions in here, as well."
Daughtry said plans for a concrete structure were scrapped in favor of a tiki-hut-style enclosure.
"Really the whole thing is going to be based off of being interactive," he said, "the ability for people to get up close and learn and touch and feel our marine life. There will be touch tanks and feed tanks, and the main tank you'll be able to get in and snorkel and Snuba, and you'll be able to feed and interact with the animals in there," he said.
Mayor Mike Cinque said the attraction would fit with the City Council's stated vision of the city as an eco-tourism and family destination.
Cinque likened it to attractions like the Dolphin Research Center, Turtle Hospital, Crane Point Hammock, Pigeon Key and Boot Key, should the city eventually purchase Boot Key from its private owners.
"That's why myself and the city were supportive of them. I've been pushing that vision for the city," Cinque said. "We have diving and fishing, but we also have some nice parks and things for the kids to enjoy. I think that's a plus for the city."
The only thing left to decide may be the most important -- what the place will be called. Daughtry said several names are being "kicked around" and they might plan a contest by which locals could submit potential names.
Either way, plans are for construction to take anywhere from nine to 12 months and be ready to open by summer 2014. Plans are to be open seven days a week, likely from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. with an anticipated 15 to 20 full-time employees.