The Exploris aquarium in Portaferry will reopen this summer following an investment package of around £1.5 million being made available for refurbishment works.
Ards and North Down Borough Council also announced last night that the tourist attraction will have a new operator - the company responsible for the success of Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast.
A total of £914,000 of the funding is from the Department of the Environment, with the remainder from the council and Crumlin Road Gaol Ltd (CRG).
Welcoming the announcement, mayor Alan Graham, said: “Ards and North Down Borough Council could not be more delighted to make this announcement and confirm details for the reopening of Exploris this summer. We are very pleased to have appointed such an innovative company as Crumlin Road Goal to operate the Aquarium and Seal Sanctuary for us. Their proposals are robust and promise to deliver a first class visitor attraction that will contribute to public understanding of marine life and make a very strong contribution to the regeneration and economic life of Portaferry, as well as the wider Ards and North Down area.”
CRG has developed a partnership with Oceanworld Aquarium in Dingle, Co Kerry to assist with the development of educational and conservation programmes around marine life at the aquarium.
Managing director with CRG Ltd Kieran Quinn, said: “It’s going to be an exciting opportunity working with Ards and North Down Borough Council and other stakeholders in the Portaferry area to create a first class visitor attraction that will be entertaining and educational for visitors. With the expertise Kevin Flannery and his colleagues from Dingle Oceanworld we will have the right team in place to ensure the Aquarium becomes one of the best in Europe.
“We anticipate this project will be a catalyst for regeneration in Portaferry and the surrounding area and we aim to create 35 jobs at the facility.”
The contract with CRG Ltd is for a minimum of 25 years and so offers a long-term and sustainable future for the Aquarium. CRG Ltd has committed to investing at least £2m into the facility during the life of the contract.