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Branson board approves TIF for $51M aquarium

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The Branson Board of Aldermen last night gave its unanimous stamp of approval to a tax increment financing package for Los Angeles-based Kuvera Partners’ $51 million Aquarium at the Boardwalk.

City spokeswoman Melody Pettit said the board approved three bills encompassing the TIF package. The green light from the board means the development at the former Grand Palace property will receive $7 million in TIF assistance over 15-23 years, equating to 13.7 percent of the total project cost. A news release issued by the city this morning noted the $7 million would come from a percentage of admissions to the attraction, as well as property taxes generated within the TIF district.

“We are excited about this opportunity to see an iconic location along 76 Highway be brought back to life,” City Administrator Stan Dobbins said in the release. “This project and TIF fits in line with Branson family values, will spur economic growth across the city and will do what TIFs are meant to do – develop partnerships with developers with no risks to the city or its residents.”

Last year, Branson rejected a request for $115.6 million in TIF funds sought for a proposed $446 million resort called Branson Adventures.

Prior to the board’s decision last night, Kuvera Partners on Feb. 22 sent an invitation to a “possible groundbreaking ceremony” at the 2700 W. 76 Country Blvd. site on the Branson Strip. It was scheduled for 11 a.m. this morning.

Through its Branson Entertainment Center - Branson LLC affiliate, Kuvera Partners plans to finance the aquarium through $15 million of its own equity and $29 million in debt. Offiicals previously said the project was not feasible without the TIF portion.

Plans for the aquarium call for a 46,000-square-foot aquarium attraction with a boardwalk theme that takes visitors “under the sea” for views of marine animals. A rendering of the attraction shows a giant octopus facing the 76 Strip. Additional renderings on the aquarium’s website show up-close views of stingrays, a so-called mermaid palace, a touch pool, coral reef and a jellyfish play area for children.

Kuvera Partners, which bought the Grand Palace property in 2014 for $2.7 million, also owns the Hollywood Wax Museum Entertainment Center in Branson.

Company officials have said future development at the Grand Palace site is planned and that it would not seek additional TIF funding for those projects.

The company is targeting a spring 2020 opening date for the aquarium. The plans were introduced in August 2018.

Aquarium at the Boardwalk would join Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium in the region. The Springfield attraction attached to Bass Pro Shops’ flagship store brought in 1.6 million visitors during its first year after reopening in September 2017.

A feasibility study released Friday recommends Springfield officials capitalize on WOW’s popularity by building a convention center and hotels near the attraction.

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