Proposed aquarium still has a long way to go before adding to Lubbock’s quality of life

Future site, proposed Lubbock Aquarium near Adventure Park

(Future site, Lubbock Aquarium)

Eight years ago, Kai Evans and her husband began creating Adventure Park. Now, Evans and a team of volunteers are in the process of creating the Lubbock Aquarium.

“Our vision and mission is to bring the ocean to Lubbock,” Evans said. “We started working on it in 2016.”

When it’s finished, the aquarium could be four or five stories tall – home for sharks, penguins, otters, stingrays, jellyfish, crocodiles, bioluminescent fish, sea horses, blue tangs, clown fish, sea urchins and stingrays.

“We have some design concepts in place,” she said. The Texas Tech College of Architecture helped the Lubbock Aquarium with a proposed design plan.

LEDA, the Lubbock Economic Development Alliance, said a new aquarium would propel Lubbock, already an important Texas destination, to new heights.

There are limits because of Lubbock’s conditions and climate, so some famous sea creatures are not on the list – like sea lions and dolphins.

The ocean is roughly 500 miles from Lubbock and the cost, just for the building, could top $20 million. This is a marathon, not a sprint.

‘A real-life butterfly garden’

Last year, the non-profit Lubbock Aquarium opened the Oceans Playground behind Adventure Park near 29th Drive and Slide Road. The cost is $3 per person and that money goes to the aquarium.

“We hope to host a real-life butterfly garden. So that’s our next phase,” Evans said. “We just applied for a grant from Texas Forestry Department.”

“We’re hoping it would help enable us to do that this year,” she said.

The butterfly and bird garden, with a treehouse, will be interactive – teaching guests about native birds, butterflies and plants.

“Native planting will attract Monarch butterflies as they migrate through West Texas,” Evans said.

There’s also a nature trail, and the plan is to develop it with interactive play areas.

“You may walk through a plant in the root system, and that’s part of the play area,” Evans said. “Kids can really learn more than just, ‘Here’s the plant and this is the name of it.’”

The land animals normally found near the ocean are in the plan.

“Especially since we don’t have a zoo in our area, we feel like that’s really important,” she said.

The Lubbock Aquarium board, a 501(c)(3) organization over which Evans is president, partnered with the Audubon Society, Texas Tech and others.

“If you were near an ocean, what other animals might be in that area? You might see a lizard or gecko or birds,” Evans said. Add sloths to that list too.

Some of the exhibits will try to bring the outdoors inside.

More than one tank

“We have a list of species that we have an interest in obtaining for the aquarium,” Evans said.

A team of architects, engineers, biologists and marine biologists marked up the list.

“Red is ‘no.’ Yellow is a ‘possibility,’ and green is a ‘go,’” she said.

“There’s some animals that really just don’t do well in small bodies of water,” Evans said. “And so, we wouldn’t put them in an aquarium setting.”

“But then there’s others that do well, but maybe not in our environment because we do have lots of sand,” she added.

“The majority will be in a building. Keeping that filtered, keeping the air quality and all those things out of the tank is really important.”

Once all of that is figured out, then a building design can be finalized.

Different creatures live in different layers of the ocean. So, the aquarium will have different layers. And not all creatures co-exist peacefully.

“From a public eye, it will look like it’s one big cylinder,” Evans said. But there will be breaks between the layers.

There will also be jewel tanks for critters that can live in smaller places.

Lubbock has plenty of sunshine and heat in the summer and a real taste of winter. asked if sea creatures can handle the temperature swings.

“Some species will. They’ll adapt to cooler temperatures, whereas some won’t,” Evans said. “Each of those tanks will be monitored for those species.”

Most aquariums have both freshwater tanks and saltwater, Evans said.

“Fresh water is a lot easier to manage, but most aquariums have a combination of both,” Evans said, “just because you’ll get the vibrant color more with saltwater than you will with freshwater fish.”

So, why bother with freshwater tanks?

“Freshwaters are much easier to operate, and they’re less picky. There are still complications with either one,” Evans said.

  • Discovery Trail near the future site, proposed Lubbock Aquarium

(Slideshow: various images at or near the future site of the Lubbock Aquarium.)

The reason for doing this

More than half of folks in Lubbock will never get a chance to experience the ocean, Evans said, calling it “staggering.”

Google Maps put the estimated driving time from Lubbock to Corpus Christi at 7 hours and 52 minutes.

“We know that children, if they’re exposed to that interaction with animals or aquarium, it opens their ideas for career paths. It helps them learn responsibility as far as caretaking for their environment,” she said, adding to broadens a child’s horizon.

“They could touch and feel and see a stingray, see sharks, see warm penguins,” Evans said.

“We haven’t done any co-grants with Texas Tech yet. That’s something that I hope at some point we have a partnership where we create programs in the aquarium. That this can be a true education facility for marine biology.”

Fishing for money

“We’ve raised thousands and thousands of dollars just by collecting change for the aquarium,” Evans said.

Evans hopes to announce naming rights soon for both the trail and the yet-to-be-constructed building.

“We have several companies that we visited with about naming rights and that’s really probably our biggest focus for 24/25,” Evans said.

Grants changed after COVID, Evans said. There is more of a focus on safety.

“We felt like it was natural for us to kind of change with that and focus on the outdoor element of that while continuing to work on the building,” Evans said.

That’s why the playground, nature trail and butterfly garden come sooner, and the seawater tanks come later.

The Lubbock Aquarium gets moral support from LEDA, but not money. There are restrictions on the state’s economic development funds to create jobs – not entertainment.

“We have a big annual event every year and 100 percent of that goes towards the aquarium,” she said.

The next event

The Pet Fest event features pet adoptions, food trucks, and the main event will be sea lions.

Evans thinks sea lions will steal the show in the parking lot of Adventure Park. Admission will be $12 for adults and $6 for children. All proceeds go to the Lubbock Aquarium.

There will be a VIP show Friday, April 26, at 6:30 p.m. There will be shows Saturday at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. and Sunday at noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

There are also volunteer events, including fundraisers, from time-to-time which are posted on the Lubbock Aquarium Facebook page.

“This is a community project, and that’s what I would say,” Evans added. “It takes everybody’s time.”

“It’s not my project. I’m one of the founders, but it really is a community project,” she said. “I think that we’ll move mountains. We’ll move oceans.”

LEDA loves it

LEDA is all in favor – except for the funding, which would be a violation of state law.

In a January letter to Evans, John Osborne, LEDA’s CEO, wrote, “The completed venue will propel Lubbock and its entertainment opportunities to new heights. In fact, in 2022, the Lubbock MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area) was ranked as the seventh most popular destination among the top 26 MSAs in Texas.”

Osborne told, “Having an aquarium here enables your community to continue to grow and have quality of life.”

When big business considers coming to Lubbock, Osborne said such companies do not ask if there is a performing arts center or a saltwater aquarium. They ask if there’s a workforce. And the workforce stays in Lubbock if there are top-notch attractions.

In the end, something like an aquarium does bring jobs to Lubbock. But it’s indirect.

“The aquarium would be one of those things I would highlight,” Osborne said.

How long is uncertain

So when will it be done?

“We don’t have a timeline for the building,” Evans said. “Everything right now is being done by volunteers which is really neat.”

“But it means it happens a lot slower.”

And the final cost has not been nailed down.

“We haven’t gotten an estimate since COVID,” Evans said. “We had defined between a 40,000- and 50,000-square-foot building. At the time, that was running about $300 to $400 a square foot.”

“It does not include all of your tanks in it,” she added.

Author: James Clark- James Clark is the associate editor of Lubbock Lights. He worked in radio, television and digital media for a combined total of more than 30 years. He was Director of Digital News Content at KAMC, KLBK and for nearly 10 years.