CONCORD, N.C. -- Merlin Entertainments has confirmed that it will begin construction in July on a $10 million Sea Life aquarium that will open in spring 2014 at Concord Mills.
“North America is a very important development market for Merlin, and we are delighted to be able to move forward with this exciting project in North Carolina,” Glenn Earlam, managing director of Merlin Entertainments’ Midway Attractions group, said in a statement about the aquarium.
Earlam said two similar projects in Dallas and Phoenix as well as the relationships developed with the Cabarrus Convention and Visitors Bureau, Concord and Cabarrus County were key factors in the company’s decision to locate in Concord.
“This support, together with our proven success in other key Simon Malls, underlined our belief that Concord, and particularly Concord Mills, is a perfect location for a quality family-based leisure facility,” Earlam said.
Concord and Cabarrus County each approved economic development incentive grants for the aquarium to help draw Merlin to the Concord area over other potential locations. Simon Property Group asked the city and the county for an 85 percent economic development grant. The value of the city’s grant would not exceed $162,712. The total value of the city and county grants will not exceed $400,000.
The aquarium is expected to draw as many as 350,000 additional tourists to the area each year. Concord Mills already reports 17 million to 18 million visits per year.
Sea Life is the world’s biggest aquarium brand with more than 15 million visitors a year and 50 attractions in Europe, the United States and Asia Pacific. Concord’s Sea Life Center will be the sixth that Merlin has opened in the United States. Merlin has other Sea Life locations in California, Minnesota, Arizona, Texas and Missouri.
Initial plans call for more than 30 displays of diverse marine life - everything from shrimp and starfish to seahorses, sharks and rays. In keeping with other Sea Life attractions, there also will be a unique element reflecting the Carolinas’ location based around the marine creatures most associated with the region. The centerpiece will be a huge tropical ocean tank with a walk-through underwater tunnel.
The Sea Life attractions offer viewing windows for a glimpse into the ocean display, educational talks, feeding demonstrations and many ways to interact directly with some of the creatures. Conservation is also at the heart of the business and visitors will see strong evidence of Sea Life’s Breed, Rescue and Protect activities around the world, including new projects developed locally.
“The Sea Life aquarium will be a welcome addition to Concord Mills’ successful mix of retail, dining and entertainment concepts,” said Gregg Goodman, President of The Mills. “We look forward to this next exciting venture with Merlin Entertainments and are confident that the millions of visitors who are already drawn to Concord Mills will be attracted to the unique Sea Life concept.”
John Cox, President/CEO of the Cabarrus Economic Development Corporation and Cabarrus Regional Chamber of Commerce said, “We are delighted that a global leisure company as dynamic and successful as Merlin is coming to our county, and bringing such a great attraction. It will not only bring jobs to Cabarrus County, but also be a showpiece for the Carolinas. We hope it is just the start of a long and mutually beneficial relationship with Merlin.”
Merlin currently also has 12 other attractions in North America. These include the Legoland Florida theme park resort and Water Park; Legoland California theme park with its Water Park, Sea Life aquarium, and hotel due to open in April this year; Madame Tussauds celebrity wax attractions in New York, Washington D.C., Las Vegas and Hollywood; and Legoland Discovery Centers in Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Kansas City and Atlanta with two more due to open in the spring in Westchester, New York and Toronto, Canada.