A former director of the National Aquarium in Washington has been hired to oversee the new aquarium being built as part of the planned revival of Rotterdam Square Mall.
Marine biologist David Gross, who started work as the project’s operating general manager on Tuesday, said trained aquarium installation crews will arrive within the next couple of weeks with the goal of opening the 25,000-square-foot display aquarium early next year.
“They are shooting for the end of February. It’s a very aggressive schedule,” Gross said on Thursday.
The aquarium, the purpose of which will be primarily educational, is a key part of efforts to revive Rotterdam Square, which has struggled to attract shoppers and tenants in recent years. It will be one of the mall’s major new attractions.
“It will definitely bring people to the mall,” Gross said.
Turkish developer Via Properties purchased the mall for $9.25 million last May, and announced plans that included the aquarium and a family fun zone with a bowling alley, arcade games and a sports bar.
The Rotterdam mall is the second U.S. project for Via Properties, which has previously rehabilitated a struggling mall in the Orlando, Florida, suburb of Leesburg.
Via officials said at the time that the aquarium and family fun area would be critical parts of their plans to reverse the mall’s long decline.
The new attractions are being built in spaces that have been vacated in recent years by the departure of large mall tenants. The aquarium will go into the space previously occupied by a T.J. Maxx store.
While having an aquarium as a shopping mall attraction is something new to the Capital Region, Gross said it is a well-established and successful concept elsewhere.
He said the Rotterdam aquarium will feature some exhibits on river systems, given the area’s connection to the Mohawk River, and will also have exhibits on coral reefs and sea life. The owners are still determining what kind of marine life will be in the aquarium exhibits.
“Education is the primary purpose, and connecting people with nature,” Gross said.
Gross has 35 years of experience in developing and managing large aquariums.
Most recently, he was working on an aquarium that was to be part of a new resort in the Bahamas until that project went bankrupt.
Before that, until late 2014, Gross spent nine years as a curator at The Wild Center, the natural history museum for the Adirondacks in Tupper Lake, which includes large aquarium components.
He was also senior aquarist and later general manager-director at the National Aquarium in Washington in the 1980s and 1990s, until he left for a job in private industry, including developing a series of display aquariums for the Landry’s restaurant chain.
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