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North Dakota town offers $1M to company that will put an aquarium in its mall

Al Urbanski
Landlords have offered Seaquest more than $3 million to open in their centers.
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A town in North Dakota lost its 100,000-sq.-ft. Kmart, but it aims to hold on to the Grand Cities Mall where the store closed.

The City Council of Grand Forks—home of the University of North Dakota--this week agreed to grant a subsidy of as much as $1 million to have a SeaQuest aquarium placed in 17,000 sq. ft. of the space vacated by Kmart.

“We really believe that we would be the number one destination in Grand Forks,” SeaQuest CEO Vince Covino told council members, according to a report in the Grand Forks Herald.  

The annual economic impact of the aquarium could add up to $15 million, Covino said, a figure at which he arrived by multiplying his business’s $3 million to $4 million yearly gross revenue by a factor of five to eight—a formula derived from its other operations. 

Covino claimed that some 60 developers and municipalities had expressed interest in having Seaquest enter their properties. Landlords, he said, had offered the company as much as offering $3.45 million.

The proposal for the subsidy, written by North Forks city staff, said that the funding would reduce SeaQuest’s risk of opening in a market of fewer than 60,000 people and that the company would not be obliged to repay it. 

Covino told the council that SeaQuest was “Amazon-proofing” retail centers. “You can’t buy our experience online,” he said. 

SeaQuest aquariums present species from five different continents that can be touched and fed by guests.  They include sloths, otters, stingrays, and caiman alligators. Visitors can snorkel in tropical waters filled with reef sharks and tropical fish.

The aquarium operator’s current installations reside in California, Connecticut, Georgia, Minnesota, New Jersey, Nevada, Texas, Virginia, and Utah.

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