Dolphin Discovery, a privately held, for profit company known for its swim-with-dolphins programs at nearly two dozen venues in the Caribbean, south Florida, Jamaica and Mexico, is buying Marineland Dolphin Adventure, according to Amy Lukasik, acting director of the county’s tourism division.
Gary Inks, former general manager of the attraction, informed Lukasik of the pending sale in an email announcing his resignation from the Tourist Development Council, the county’s advisory board for the tourism bureau.
“They will have their own General Manager in place by May 1, 2019,” Inks wrote in late April. Lukasik has been the acting director of the county’s tourism division since the suspension of Director Matt Dun, who is under investigation.
The sale has not yet been recorded through county property tax records. It would be the second time in eight years that the tourist attraction changes hands. Atlanta Aquarium in 2011 paid developer Jim Jacoby $5.7 million for what was then known as the Dolphin Conservation Center (when the attraction was drawing about 70,000 people a year), 10 years after Jacoby himself had bought the property for $1.9 million from Marineland Foundation Inc.
The sale would have wide-reaching consequences beyond tourism. Since the Georgia Aquarium is a non-profit, the Marineland Dolphin Adventure property has been off the tax rolls, its entire assessed value of $5 million exempt from county, Marineland and other property taxes. That exemption would appear to be on its way out. The property’s acquisition by a for-profit company would result in an infusion of property tax revenue for the city of Marineland, the county, the school board and a few smaller entities, of a combined $128,000 a year at 2018 assessments.
For Marineland alone, it would mean tax revenue of $50,000. Marineland has the highest property tax in the county, at $10 per $1,000 of taxable value. It has one property taxpayer: Jacoby, who still owns significant acreage around town. County government’s share would be $41,000. The school board would reap most of the rest.
Dolphin Discovery officials have been elusive, however, so far not returning calls or contacts from reporters or even from Lukasik. “I’ve reached out to them, they haven’t returned my emails so I’m not taking it personally right now, it’s probably because the sale is not final,” Lukasik said. The tourism council has a designated seat for a tourism representative from Marineland. The seat is ready for the next general manager of the attraction, if he or she is willing (and if that person is a resident of Flagler County).
“I’m just interested to hear what sort of changes they have in mind, programs, hopefully some new animals,” Lukasik said. “When I did my looking around it looks like they have a lot more diverse animals. Hopefully we’ll see some of those and more reasons to visit Marineland. And what they do, it’s nothing new to them, they’re not starting from scratch.” Dolphin Discovery is a 24-year-old company.
Last year six Dolphin Discovery facilities in the Mexican Caribbean earned certification through the global American Humane Conservation program for the welfare and humane treatment of the animals under their care. The facilities passed third-party audits to earn the Humane Certified seal of approval. A company release said Dolphin Discovery joined “an elite group of less than four dozen institutions worldwide to achieve certification under the American Humane Conservation program.”
Exactly a year ago, in its latest push for visibility and relevance in an increasingly crowded tourism-attraction landscape (the original Marineland attraction predates Disney by decades), Marineland Dolphin Adventure re-dedicated its iconic arches, once the landmark of many a child’s memories, offered discounts to local residents and hosted a series of special events, concerts and movies.
A Dolphin Discovery Video: