Sea Life aquarium project planned at Grapevine Mills mall

A $15 million Sea Life aquarium -- an interactive, underwater-themed attraction -- will land at Grapevine Mills as early as next summer, the mall announced Thursday.

Plans call for a two-story, 45,000-square-foot aquarium next to Legoland Discovery Centre, a $12 million children's attraction set to open in late spring 2011. Both are developments of London-based Merlin Entertainments Group.

"It's a real coup for the city of Grapevine," said Gregg Goodman, president of The Mills Corp., a Simon Property Group subsidiary that owns the mall. "I certainly think that both concepts will be a major traffic generator."

Sea Life is replacing the GameWorks arcade and will share the mall's west entrance with Legoland, which is replacing Woodward Skatepark across from AMC Theatres. Outside, an accompanying miniature golf course will be made from Legos.

The aquarium will offer more than 30 displays of various types of marine animals, including sharks, rays, seahorses and starfish. A tunnel will lead visitors through the aquarium's centerpiece: a tropical ocean-themed tank. Regional features will reflect freshwater and coastal habitats of Texas.

The two attractions are "quality products" that will be "a cheaper alternative" to many entertainment venues in the area, Grapevine Mayor William D. Tate said. "We're thrilled."

Glenn Earlam, a managing director for Merlin Entertainments, said in a statement that Grapevine "is a perfect location for quality family-based leisure facilities."

Construction is set to begin in August, Goodman said.

In April, the city gave $1 million to the mall for unspecified improvements intended to attract "a substantial number of additional shoppers," according to a City Council memo. The mall already draws more than 16 million people a year.

Goodman said most of that money will go toward infrastructure for Sea Life. "Without the commitment and support of both the city and The Mills, we would not have been able to progress plans for this second attraction so quickly," Earlam said. Local economic development expert Terry Clower called the incentive package a "competitive move" because the funds are from expected surpluses in the $27.5 million tax increment financing district that helped pave the way for the mall, which opened in 1997.

"If it helped them bring in Sea Life, then that's a good thing," Councilwoman Darlene Freed said.

Last year, the city gave a $1 million incentive package to Merlin Entertainments for the 40,000-square-foot Legoland and the 10,000-square-foot miniature golf course.

This month, a $15 million, 26,000-square-foot Sea Life opened at Arizona Mills mall in Tempe.

California is home to the nation's only other Sea Life, a 36,000-square-foot attraction adjacent to a Legoland in Carlsbad, according to a news release. That aquarium has 36 displays and 14 themed rooms.

JAY BOARD, 817-685-3863