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Invest Atlanta wonders: Should tax cash go to shark exhibit or affordable housing?

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The Georgia Aquarium is seeking a $7.5 million grant to help fund its latest expansion

A rendering of a curving new blue addition to the Aquarium.
Hammerhead sharks and other foreboding sea creatures are coming back to the Georgia Aquarium.
PGAV Destinations via CAP

At first blush, it might seem easy to say the city’s economic development arm should prioritize mixed-income housing initiatives over, say, helping the Georgia Aquarium build a new shark exhibit.

But this debate is more nuanced than that.

On Monday, a three-person Invest Atlanta panel addressed the private aquarium’s request for a grant of up to $7.5 million from the Westside Tax Allocation District, according to Saporta Report.

In a 2-1 vote, the panel, comprised of Invest Atlanta CEO Eloisa Klementich and Vice Chairwoman Constance Barkley-Lewis, and Atlanta City Councilwoman Natalyn Archibong, elected to recommend the agency’s board OKs the grant, which would help the aquatic zoo build a new shark exhibit as part of its $108 million, 41,000-square-foot expansion.

Archibong lobbed the only “no” vote, saying that the money could be better spent on other community improvement projects, such as creating more affordable housing options.

Although she voted in favor of giving the grant money to the project, Barkley-Lewis said she thinks Georgia Aquarium officials wouldn’t have much trouble identifying a private donor to write the multi-mullion-dollar check.

As of today, the privately owned and operated aquarium has never taken any TAD cash or money from the city’s general fund, and Klementich said helping the expansion is a worthy cause to support, since more tourists mean more sales tax cash for other city upgrades—affordable housing initiatives, perhaps.

The aquarium does, however, benefit from a roughly $4.5 million tax break that helps with construction costs.

Invest Atlanta’s full board is expected to deliberate further at its meeting Wednesday.

Georgia Aquarium

225 Baker Street Northwest, , GA 30313 (404) 581-4000 Visit Website