Morro Bay Aquarium’s future is up for debate

Morro Bay landmark has applied for new lease; City Council will discuss it Tuesday

dsneed@thetribunenews.comJune 24, 2013 

The fate of the controversial Morro Bay Aquarium will be discussed Tuesday.

The Morro Bay City Council will debate then whether the city should renew the lease for the small waterfront aquarium or look for a new tenant. Aquarium owners Dean and Bertha Tyler have applied for a new 10-year lease.

The Tylers have proposed making dock repairs and cosmetic upgrades to the building. They also have floated the idea of giving the city a greater percentage of the businesses’ proceeds that could be as much as $750,000 over the 10-year life of the lease.

If the council decides not to renew the lease, the city would request proposals for a new business to go into that location on the Embarcadero. The Tylers could also submit their own new proposal.

The couple’s current 50-year lease expires in 2018. The small aquarium has been a source of considerable controversy for the city.

In May, the city’s Harbor Advisory Board held a discussion about the aquarium. Most Morro Bay residents at the meeting and the harbor board members said they support the aquarium as a landmark business on the city’s waterfront but believe that the facility needs to be modernized.

In a letter to the city, the Tylers said the aquarium is an integral part of the waterfront that draws thousands of visitors who feed the seals and look at marine life up close in display tanks.

“All in all, we would say that the Morro Bay Aquarium Inc. has helped contribute to the local economy,” the Tylers said in their letter.

Critics say the tanks housing the aquarium’s seals are too small and constitute animal cruelty. In a letter to the city council, county animal services manager Eric Anderson echoed those concerns and described the conditions in the aquarium for the seals as “dismal.”

Anderson recommended that renewal of the aquarium’s lease be contingent upon it obtaining accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Many of the larger aquariums in the state, including the Monterey Bay Aquarium, have accreditation from this group.

“While the scale and quality of these operations may seem difficult for a small community aquarium to obtain, it should be noted that locally, the Charles Paddock Zoo in Atascadero has also received AZA accreditation,” Anderson said.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the council is expected to take public comment and review the new proposal from the Tylers and possibly give direction to staff.

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