Brevard aquarium

Community members gathered together for the Brevard Zoo's inaugural 'Strategic Doing' session, during which attendees brainstormed ideas for the Zoo's aquarium project.

BREVARD COUNTY — This year the Brevard Zoo is celebrating its 25th anniversary in a big way; from the opening of a new zoo section called ‘Rainforest Revealed’ to an ambitious new project that has taken years to get the ball rolling: a world-class aquarium right here in Brevard.

Between discussions of leasing land with the Canaveral Port Authority board of commissioners and multiple fundraising efforts, one of the challenges the Brevard Zoo is facing is a widespread awareness of its latest project.

On Aug. 22, the conference room at the Holiday Inn Melbourne-Viera was full of enthusiastic community members gathered for a session of “Strategic Doing,” an evolved step from strategic planning that gets planning off the ground, according to Lisa Rice, former president of CareerSource Brevard, now a Colorado Springs resident.

Ms. Rice, who was recruited to help the Brevard Zoo with its aquarium project as a consultant, directed the room split into five focus groups.

“That’s what today is about; what’s your one little piece that you can do,” Ms. Rice said. “Your piece may seem little to you at first, but I will tell you, it will build quickly and it will change the trajectory of this aquarium project.”

Each focus group spent the morning brainstorming ways to spread awareness, get the community involved, find fundraising opportunities, get organized and find connections that could lead to political influences.

“This is my forte, I love getting the word out,” said Danielle Jewett, communications development coordinator for AMI Kids Space Coast. “The community is what makes everything happen, you never do it alone.”

By the end of the breakout sessions, each table divided responsibilities that will help the Brevard Zoo’s aquarium task force make a dream become reality.

“I hope people walk away with the sense that the power to make this thing happen is really in their hands,” said Keith Winsten, executive director for the Brevard Zoo. “Before the Brevard Zoo opened, we had 16,000 volunteers involved to get that started.”

To date, Mr. Winsten added that the zoo has almost 15,000 household memberships, employs about 200 employees and sees about 220,000 tourists visit.

In a presentation to audiences at the breakout sessions, Mr. Winsten shared some of the Brevard Zoo’s history.

“We are an accredited zoo, and there’s only about 225 of us,” Mr. Winsten said. “Of that group, less than 20 have our model. We are a 501(c)3, not-for-profit. We’re independent, and we don’t get any recurring operating support from the community, so we have to earn it and we’re very proud of that.

“We provide amazing care for our animals and animal wellness to the work we do in the Indian River Lagoon, and to our education initiatives, which is about connecting everyone with nature,” he continued.

The Brevard Zoo has identified a 14-acre parcel of land in Port Canaveral where the future site of the aquarium would be built. It would be the only aquarium built near I-95 south of Charleston, South Carolina, according to Mr. Winsten.

The aquarium would feature an Indian River Lagoon educational center, offer water play areas and hands-on aquarium interactions.

Officials anticipate the start of construction to begin in the fall of 2020, with a grand opening in fall of 2022. Once opened, the Brevard Zoo expects to see up to 500,000 visitors per year, and would offer joint membership with the zoo.

The Brevard Zoo will host another aquarium discussion session at the Holiday Inn Melbourne-Viera conference center on Nov. 19.

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