After treading through hot waters for months, the owners of the new Austin Aquarium say their facility will be open by the end of the week.
The owners of the Aquarium have come under fire after allegations of poor animal management practices at their other facilities in Oregon and Idaho.
The Austin project has also had some less-than-positive publicity about city permit problems. In September, the City of Austin’s Code Compliance Department issued a “stop work order” for the aquarium. City officials said the order was issued after code compliance learned workers at the aquarium were pouring concrete, something that went beyond the scope of their permitting at the time.
Before that, the aquarium was keeping fish on site without a permit and city officials ordered Vince Covino, one of the owners behind the aquarium, to remove them until he obtained the right approvals.
The controversy has promoted a small but vocal group of protesters outside of the aquarium in northwest Austin, which used to be a Lacks Furniture Store in a strip mall near Anderson Mill and Highway 183.
"These protesters have gone out and weathered the cold for something they believe in, we understand that,” Covino said. “We believe we're a wonderful voice for conservation. We believe that we're a great place for inspiration and education for families."
Vince Covino says despite the hurdles, the aquarium will be open for pass holders on Thursday and to the general public on Dec. 22.
"We can't wait for people to get in here, to see what they've been waiting for,” he said. “We know there's been a lot of anticipation."
Soon, the aquarium will be home to more than 3,000 sea creatures.
"We want to raise biology scores at schools,” Covino said. “We want to work with the teachers on education. We want to help moms and dads connect."
Despite the push back, Covino said their efforts have seen tremendous support. He expects about 3,000 visitors per day for the first 30 to 60 days the aquarium is open. Then, he expects turnout to be closer to 1,200 to 1,500 visitors a day.
"A lot of field trips, a lot of groups, lot of private parties at nights. We have 'Sleep with the Sharks' and field trips booked for the next six months," Covino said."I don't think we have a Friday or Saturday night available for the next six months for anybody, for anything. We're booked solid."
Covino's brother, Ammon Covino, recently received a one year sentence in federal prison for animal permitting violations. Aquarium managers say he is not affiliated with the Austin location.