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Nampa aquarium project slates April 24 fundraiser

The Idaho Aquarium organization has begun a fundraising drive intended to finance a major public aquarium attraction at a 10,000-square-foot space the nonprofit group has leased in Nampa Gateway Center south of the Garrity Boulevard interchange with Interstate 84.

The group must raise $300,000 by Oct. 15 to proceed with turning the space into a large public aquarium facility. A fundraising rally with free hot dogs and soft drinks is slated at noon April 24 at the site, at the south entrance to the Gateway Center off Stamm Road. The aquarium is slated just south of JCPenney.

“We have been working on the aquarium idea for a long time and fundraising has been a challenge because we haven’t had a suitable building at a good site,” Ammon Covino, chairman of the Aquarium board of directors, said in a release. “When we found this perfect space in the Nampa Gateway Center, we felt it was time to go all in, so we’re proceeding with the project even though we don’t have the money yet to make the dream a reality.” The new Nampa Gateway Center is anchored by JCPenney and Macy’s. The center is owned and managed by Developers Diversified Realty of Beachwood, Ohio.

Covino said funds raised will be kept in a special account and will be returned if the group does not raise the necessary money by the deadline. Contributions are tax-deductible.

“We’re going to find out one way or the other whether people in the Treasure Valley really want a large public aquarium facility,” said Covino. “It they do, we’ll be successful in raising the necessary funds and we can begin bringing in fish, tanks, and all the equipment that is needed to outfit the facility. If people don’t want a public aquarium and our fundraising efforts fall short, we’ll return all the money and end our participation in the project. It’s really up to the community now.”

Covino and business associate Chris Conk started working on the aquarium project in 2007 and have come close several times to beginning construction, but there always seemed to be obstacles that were too difficult to overcome.

“We spent more than a year negotiating with a private trust and a local city government to build the facility, and it looked good initially, but the deal fell through,” said Covino. “When Developers Diversified made us the offer to lease their building, it seemed to the Aquarium board like a do-or-die situation, so we are plunging into a major fundraising effort.”

The project was called Boise Aquarium originally, but was changed to Idaho Aquarium when the project moved outside Boise. The group last year targeted a Meridian site where a new park is planned at Eagle Road and Fairview Avenue, the Idaho Press-Tribune reported.

Erik Christopher, senior vice president of leasing/development for Developers Diversified, said in the release that the Idaho Aquarium is an innovative use of space and will be a great addition to the Nampa Gateway Center. “The Aquarium will attract families and tourists to the shopping center, and offers a dynamic addition to the community,” he said.

“The aquarium will be an entertainment attraction, certainly, but it also represents a great opportunity for families and school groups to learn more about the ocean and its creatures,” said Covino. “It’s also worth noting that we plan to make sure the cost of passes and individual admissions are reasonable.”

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