Da Vinci Aquarium in Easton Expected to be Largest in Pennsylvania
By Colin McEvoy on November 29, 2016
The Lehigh Valley could soon be the home of the largest public aquarium in the state of Pennsylvania.
The city of Easton and the Da Vinci Science Center formally unveiled plans this week for the $130 million “Da Vinci Science City,” a 170,000 square-foot science center and aquarium complex in Easton’s waterfront area.
The project is expected to attract 600,000 annual visitors and create 200 permanent full-time equivalent jobs, resulting in $45 million in direct economic activity for the Lehigh Valley, and $100 million in total economic activity each year.
“We are thrilled to be partnering with the city of Easton to develop a world-class science center, which will position the Lehigh Valley region as a leader in STEM education,” said Lin Erickson, Executive Director and CEO of the Da Vinci Science Center said on Nov. 29.
The complex is proposed for the corner of South Third Street and Larry Holmes Drive, the site of the current Days Inn Hotel. On Nov. 28, Easton City Council approved a memorandum of understanding for the project and an agreement of sale to purchase the property, Easton Mayor Sal Panto Jr. said.
“It is a wonderful opportunity to revitalize an urban renewal tract that was underutilized for the last 35 years,” Panto said. “We’re looking forward to the density this is going to create, the impact it’s going to have on our downtown, and a whole new vision of entering into our city from I-78.”
The Da Vinci Science City will feature an aquarium with a 500,000-gallon main tank, which will hold sharks and other saltwater fish. The project will also include a 60,000 square-foot science center with hands-on educational experiences and traveling exhibits.
Erickson said the complex will promote curiosity, creativity, innovation, and the integration of art and design with traditional STEM concepts of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Don Cunningham, President and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC), called the complex a “transformational project” for the city and region, and the focus on STEM is appropriate given that manufacturing is the Lehigh Valley’s top economic sector.
“Easton is perfectly situation to be the home of this venue, but its benefit will extend to the entire Lehigh Valley and beyond,” Cunningham said. “Much like Coca-Cola Park and the PPL Center, the Da Vinci Science City project in Easton will enhance the quality of life and economic attractiveness of the Lehigh Valley, and will continue to make us a destination for visitors, residents, and employers.”
Panto said the project is part of Easton’s ongoing effort to establish itself as a tourist destination, along with other attractions like the Crayola Experience, Sigal Museum, State Theatre, Easton Public Market, Easton Farmers’ Market, Nurture Nature Center, and multiple art galleries and restaurants.
The aquarium will be partially modeled after the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, Erickson said. The Da Vinci Science City will also include a Creativity Studio public workshop space, an immersive giant screen theater, and a destination aquarium restaurant and event center.
The Da Vinci Science Center will include 35,000 square-feet of permanent exhibits, three times the size of the exhibit space in the current Allentown location, Erickson said. It will also feature a 10,000 square-foot traveling exhibit space, allowing it to host major exhibits like Pixar and Harry Potter.
Easton has pledged 25 percent of the project cost up to $30 million. Panto said the city expects to recoup its investment even if the complex only attracts 300,000 to 400,000 visitors annually, rather than the 600,000 expected to be drawn there each year. Excess revenue over expenses will go to the city’s general fund, other tourist attractions, and social services, he said.
This proposed complex will compliment Da Vinci Science Center’s existing facility in Allentown, which will be refocused over time as a Children’s Discovery Center for children ages eight and under, Erickson said.
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This column, written by LVEDC President and CEO Don Cunningham, originally appeared on The Morning Call website on November 23, 2016. (Click here to read Cunningham’s previous[...]Continue to Next Page