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ATLANTA-After years of talk, the city will actually get an aquarium, The Georgia Aquarium, now that Home Depot chairman Bernie Marcus has committed $200 million to the project. Marcus plans a 250,000-sf complex that will open to the public in 2005.

The Marcus Foundation, Marcus’s philanthropic arm, is funding the project and will provide the aquarium with operational funds for the first few years until it can sustain itself through private donations and profits.

Marcus reveals the news of what he calls a “thank you” to Home Depot customers and associates at a news conference with Gov. Roy Barnes. According to Marcus, the aquarium will have more than five million gallons of water and will contain “some of the most exotic fishes and animals you’ve ever seen in your life.”

Georgia Aquarium will be built on a 15.5-acre parcel of land near multi-use development Atlantic Station and Georgia Tech. “I am building the aquarium to be an educational tool for every school, teacher and parent and to bring joy to everyone,” Marcus says. “It will be an aquarium of the 23rd Century with no boundaries — the next definition of aquarium. It will be entrepreneurial like the Home Depot.” There are also plans to work with local colleges to create a marine research program to be located at the facility.

The aquarium could eventually bring in as many as 2 million visitors a year. Project designers hope to finalize plans for the structure within the next 18 months, but one major decision has already been made: Marcus has hired Tampa’s Florida Aquarium executive director Jeffery S. Swanagan to serve as the Georgia Aquarium’s first executive director.

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