Seattle agreed Tuesday to lend an additional $20 million to the Seattle Aquarium to complete its ongoing expansion project, bringing the city’s overall contribution to $54 million as the project comes in over budget.
The city’s initial $34 million contribution to the new Ocean Pavilion — an expansion to the aquarium’s waterfront presence designed to host a variety of sharks and rays in a 325,000 gallon tank — was approved in 2013.
Since then, the project once budgeted at $113 million has ballooned to an estimated $160 million. To help keep construction on track, the Seattle Aquarium Society asked the city to lend $20 million in additional funds to be repaid by the aquarium, with interest, after it has time to recoup the money through revenue and private donations. Opening is expected in 2024.
The Seattle City Council approved the loan with an amendment that, among other technical changes, noted this would be the city’s last financial contribution to the project.
“We are supportive of and supporting the aquarium, but in our obligation to the city and many other projects, this is the last time we are able to offer such financial assistance,” said Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, who chairs the council’s Budget and Finance Committee.
Before the vote, members of the public criticized the idea of the city lending any additional money to something nonessential, as residents struggle to afford even basic housing in Seattle.
“Even if this is alone, I feel that this is a waste of the money that we could be, you know, funding a lot more important programs in the city,” resident Amy Webster said during Tuesday’s public comment period.
Webster and others were concerned about the project’s environmental impact — particularly that of a new building designed to house sharks and rays — citing the energy and water consumption required to maintain the tank and the direct impact on animals captured from the wild or bred in captivity.
“In addition to the inherent cruelty of such a proposal, this tank would require energy and water that Seattle can ill afford during times of accelerated climate change,” said Jeanne Barrett, echoing about a dozen other callers concerned with the tank.
“During the time when our city needs funding in so many areas, perhaps the aquarium can live within its means and scale,” she added.
Councilmember Andrew Lewis defended the investment, noting the plan, including the pavilion, had already been approved by a previous council, and that the new action was intended to meet funding needs and keep the project on track.
“Whether this policy passes or is defeated today does not change whether there’ll be an Ocean Pavilion,” Lewis said. “It just determines if that Ocean Pavilion is going to take longer to build and how expensive it’s going to be for us to build.”
The council voted 7-2 in favor of the bill, with Councilmembers Alex Pedersen and Kshama Sawant opposed.