BALTIMORE-News has emerged that the National Aquarium has made plans to acquire 20 acres in the city to accommodate development of its new Center for Aquatic Life and Conservation in South Baltimore. The city’s Board of Estimates is expected to rule on the proposed land purchase today. If all goes as planned, the first phase of the project–which would include a 140,000-sf animal care center with meeting space and space for educational and conservation programs–should reach completion in 2008.

The land deal will cost an estimated $8 million, a price that includes the relocation of an existing city repair garage; while phase one will price out at $35 million. Additional phases at the site are expected to produce an animal rescue center, research lab, and potentially, a hotel and conference center. The entire campus development project is expected to cost $110 million.

Situated along the Patapsco River, the future home of the Center for Aquatic Life is currently a brownfield site that will require cleanup before the development process can get underway. Officials of the National Aquarium have long had the property in their sights, but issues with the Environmental Protection Agency and the consideration of other locations slowed the selection process. But what is now a mini-environmental nightmare will evolve into a “green” property featuring a building with an energy efficient design, efficient water usage and use of ecologically friendly materials.

The Center for Aquatic Life will be a supplement, not a replace the existing 23-year-old, 250,000-sf National Aquarium facility on Pratt St. in the Inner Harbor. That headquarters site is currently undergoing an expansion of its own; a $66 million endeavor that will produce a 65,400-sf Australian Outback exhibit scheduled to open in the fall of next year.

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