Morro Bay Aquarium

Morro Bay Aquarium

Moving Forward in Morro Bay!

UPDATED: APRIL 1, 2019: NEXT STEP IN THE DEVELOPMENT PROCESS: An Architectural and Exhibit Concept Plan.

CCA is in the process of receiving bids for this critical next step plan and early estimates suggest $25,000 to $35,000 will be needed. CCA expects to have a cost estimate by April 12. A concept plan will show the community what a new aquarium will look like both inside and outside. These concept drawings and presentations will be the basis for all future planning. Yet, the design elements are not set in stone but will be created to be flexible throughout the development process. Qualified firms are being solicited to submit proposals.

The final product will include: plans, elevations, isometrics, animal life support schematics and schedules, preliminary tank drawings, building infrastructure requirements, “look and feel” drawings of exhibit space, and cost estimate for the build out.

For more information or to donate, please contact Christine Johnson, Executive Director, Central Coast Aquarium, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 805-595-7280, extension 1002.

Morro Bay Aquarium Expansion Project Background

For nearly 25 years, the Central Coast Aquarium (CCA), located in Avila Beach, has been providing unique hands-on learning opportunities to children and adults in the fields of Marine Biology and Oceanography, as well as local history. The mission of the CCA is to cultivate a community dedicated to ocean stewardship through education, engagement, and action. The Central Coast Aquarium is a 501c3 non-profit organization (Tax ID number is 77-0479110).

In the fall of 2013, the City of Morro Bay issued a request for proposals for the complete redevelopment of the Morro Bay Aquarium on waterfront lease sites 69-70/69W-70W. As a result of that process, the City, CCA and Cal Poly’s Center for Coastal Marine Sciences proposed a public-private partnership for the purpose of collaborating on a redevelopment project for a new, state-of-the-art, public aquarium and marine science education research center in Morro Bay. In May 2016, the City approved a Consent of Landowner agreement with the CCA and set compliance dates.

The City of Morro Bay extended the compliance dates on the agreement to allow CCA to fundraise for the economic feasibility study--the first step in the development process. CCA is grateful to the nearly 50 donors who helped to raise the $44,000 needed for the study including $10,000 from the City of Morro Bay economic development funds and $4,000 through a SLO County Community Programs Grant. The balance of $30,000 was raised from private donors in the community.

The Morro Bay Aquarium Market and Economic Feasibility Study was shared with the public on Tuesday, March 12, 2019 as an agenda item during the Morro Bay City Council Meeting. The City Council made a unanimous decision to move forward in partnership with the Central Coast Aquarium and Cal Poly into the fundraising stage to develop a new marine science education center with a public aquarium. The partners have agreed to a one-year timeline to generate philanthropic interest in this project. Support from the City will likely be in the form of land lease support and assistance with the development process.

As the feasibility study reveals, all non-profit aquariums require funding beyond their earned revenue potential. Yet, a future Morro Bay project has the potential to earn more than the average aquarium’s earned revenue given the unique factors to the site in Morro Bay as detailed in the study. Early estimates for the funding needed for a complete redevelopment of the site for a new facility are $5m (minimum) to $10m (maximum) including an operational endowment. The study revealed that this project is not feasible if it carries debt. Therefore, the option of utilizing a USDA Rural Development Community Facilities Guaranteed Loan to finance a new facility, that had been previously discussed, is no longer a viable option.

To read the City of Morro Bay staff report about the Aquarium project, Click Here.

To read the Economic Feasibility Study on its own, Click Here.

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