By Bill Cameron, Pocono Record Writer
Believe it or not, Ripley Entertainment, Inc. plans to build an aquarium in Tobyhanna Township. A company spokesperson declined to comment, but State Senator Mario Scavello (R-40) said the $200 million project is a sure thing.
“The aquarium is definite,” he said. “They’ve allowed me to say that much. They haven’t committed to me what the second attraction will be, but there will be two.”
Both attractions would neighbor Kalahari Resort on State Route 940 near Interstate 380 in Pocono Summit. The property is owned by Pocono Manor Investments.
First known for Cartoonist and Founder Robert Ripley’s catalog of oddities, the Ripley brand today owns over 95 attractions in 12 countries. They currently operate three aquariums: one in Gatlinburg, Tennesee; another in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; and a third in Toronto, Canada.
Ripley spokeswoman Suzanne Smagala-Potts said the company is familiar with the Poconos as a tourist destination, but couldn’t comment on any plans to build there at this time.
The Aquarium would bring an estimated 250 jobs to the area, said Scavello. It could also have a broader economic impact.
“The more jobs you create, the more you put employers in competition,” he said. “It’s a healthy way to increase wages.”
Developers have yet to determine the exact size of the facility, said Tobyhanna Township Manager John Jablowski. Estimates put the combined attractions at an excess of 100,000 to 200,000 feet; however, he cautioned that planning is still in the early stages.
“It’s still in the conceptual design phase, but we’re very encouraged about the future potential development,” he said. “There are no official plans to break ground just yet. We’re still finalizing concepts with the developers and working with community stakeholders to make that vision a reality.”
Aquarium discussions began about a year and a half ago, said Scavello. He expects to see preliminary plans sometime in the next few months.
“This is going to make us a destination,” he said. “It’s something different in the Poconos. Students from our schools will get to see something beautiful right there; they don’t have to go far away.”
The aquarium would be particularly beneficial for students at East Stroudsburg University. Scavello, who is also an ESU trustee, said Ripley will have a direct involvement with the university’s marine science program. The facility would prove a regionally unique avenue for hands-on education and direct employment, with potential for an internship program also.