An international company behind attractions such as Madame Tussauds and LegoLand is in talks to open a 30,000-square-foot aquarium at Concord Mills.
Many details about the $10 million project are not yet available, but one timetable has the aquarium opening as early as spring of 2014.
Earlier this week, Cabarrus County commissioners approved a grant of up to $238,000 for the project. The money would be in the form of a tax rebate paid out over four years, after the project is complete. The money would go to Simon Properties, which owns Concord Mills, for an aquarium facility for Merlin Entertainments Group, according to the economic development agreement.
Merlin operates other aquariums under its SeaLife brand on Simon properties in Arizona and Texas.
In Concord, Simon plans to expand the mall to make room for the new attraction.
Concord Mills general manager Ray Soporowski noted the companys work with Merlin at some of its sister properties.
Officials look forward to building on that relationship with the announcement of more exciting additions in the near future, Soporowski said in a statement.
On Thursday, a spokeswoman for Merlin Entertainments said the project is at a "very early development stage" and officials couldn't discuss more details at this time. The company is based in the United Kingdom.
Concord city leaders also are expected to consider money for the aquarium project, but the proposal has not yet come up for a public vote before the city council.
Jobs and visitors
At a meeting this week, Cabarrus commissioners were told the planned attraction could draw more than 350,000 visitors each year. It also could add 30 jobs, according to John Cox, CEO of the Cabarrus Economic Development Corporation and the Cabarrus Regional Chamber of Commerce.
The malls website already bills the sprawling shopping center as North Carolinas No. 1 visitor attraction.
On Wednesday, Cox said that he couldnt go into much detail yet about the possible aquarium.
But he said he became aware of the potential for a project several months ago, and work heated up in recent weeks.
On its website, Merlin said it operates 94 attractions, seven hotels and two holiday villages in 21 countries. That includes SeaLife locations in five states.
For example, the company has a 26,000-square-foot aquarium in Simons Arizona Mills in Tempe. It features over 5,000 creatures, including sea turtles, sharks and tropical fish, according to its website.
Tickets for the Arizona facility range from $13 to $18 at the door, with discounts online. Annual passes cost $45.
The proposed 30,000-square-foot aquarium in Concord would be smaller than some others in the Southeast. The South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston is in a 93,000-square-foot facility. Meanwhile, the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta is more than 600,000 square feet. Lukas Johnson contributed.
Bethea: 704-358-6013. On Twitter: @AprilBethea
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