Groundbreaking for the$14 million expansion that will more than double the size of the Loggerhead Marinelife Center is planned for the end of this year.
Bigger hospital and research facilities, more classrooms, an auditorium, a Discovery Zone interactive exhibit hall and an amphitheater with a wall-to-ceiling ocean reef tank are planned. There will be an outdoor cafe and a hall with flexible space for public and private events.
The opening is scheduled for the fall of 2020.
The expansion is needed to meet the booming increase in visitors to the center, which drew about 70,000 people when LMC opened in 2007. About 300,000 visitors came last year. About 60 percent of those visitors are from outside of Palm Beach County.
A little more than half of the $14 million expansion is for construction. The rest is for educational exhibits, scientific equipment, insurance, finance and other non-construction programs.
“We want to pay off our debt and further establish our endowment. We are building our future,” said Jack Lighton, LMC president and chief executive officer.
No additional parking is planned. Visitors will park in the 238-space lot east of the center, which often goes unused, said Lighton.
“We’ll add signs to do a better job redirecting people to that parking lot,” Lighton said.
The gift shop — which generates about 40 percent of the center’s revenue — and welcome center will be expanded. Eleven additional tanks for recovering sea turtles are also in the plans, bringing the total to 25, . The largest of the new tanks will be three times the size as the biggest tank on property now.
More events — from research symposiums to weddings — are likely at the new, bigger center, said former Palm Beach County Commissioner Karen Marcus, who is vice-chair of the LMC capital campaign. Marcus’ daughter Ashley was married on the nearby Juno Beach Fishing Pier in November. The reception was held at LMC.
“I was at a dinner recently (at the center) that Scripps Research Institute hosted. There were scientists from around the world. More such events will let us tell the story how important sea turtles are to ocean conservation,” said Marcus.
This year, the center is receiving $144,600 from the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County that must be used for cultural and tourism development initiatives. Juno Beach donated $5,000. The 501(c)3 nonprofit center’s annual budget is $5.3 million.
LMC’s 300 volunteers and 29 full-time employees count turtle nests on the 10 miles of beach from from the northern Palm Beach County line south to John D. MacArthur Beach State Park during the season that runs from March 1 to Oct. 31.
Veterinarians at the center treat wounded and sick sea turtles, who stay in the salt water tanks while they recover. LMC also operates the Palm Beach County-owned Juno Beach Pier.
The stay for an injured sea turtle averages six to nine months and costs about $15,000. The center treats about 100 adult sea turtles annually, said Lighton.
Admission to LMC is free. Donations are accepted. The center also gets income from special events, education programs and grants.
The center, just north of Donald Ross Road on the east side of U.S. 1, opened in 1983 in Loggerhead Park as the Children’s Museum of Juno Beach. The current 12,000-square-foot center was built in 2007. That’s when the name was changed to Loggerhead Marinelife Center.
Loggerhead Marinelife Center, by the numbers:
- 2 - Stories for new building
- 14- New sea turtle tanks
- 25 - Total sea turtle tanks after expansion
- 238 - Parking spaces on site
- 12,000 - Square footage of current building
- 27,500 - Square footage of new building
- 39,500 - Square footage of LMC when project complete in 2020
- $14 million - Cost of expansion project