Developer Planning Aquarium at Park Pobedy

Courtesy of Marine GardensThe aquarium will feature three underwater observation tunnels running along the bottom of a 12.6-meter-deep tank.
Most businesses in Moscow have a fishy past, but this one has a fishy future.

Awash in a high tide of black gold, Moscow will soon join the brotherhood of world capitals boasting an aquarium.

The Moscow Ocean Park, like many of the city's new developments, is looking to impress. The aquarium tank will be the biggest in Europe, with a 10-million-liter capacity, and will be fitted with three underwater acrylic tunnels in 12.6 meters of water (also the deepest). The facility will have more than 6,000 exhibits, although not much information is available so far on the number or species.

"The aquarium will feature seven different species of shark, which will cost more than $10,000 apiece," said Irina Kurilovich, the PR manager at Marine Gardens, which is behind the project.

In a thoroughly Russian take on the idea of a national aquarium, the 180,000-square-meter Moscow Ocean Park complex will be privately owned. Marine Gardens is majority-owned by Eurasia Investment Group, which is also invested in the Eurasia Tower in Moskva-City and the Paveletsky shopping mall.

Situated within Park Pobedy, the 4-hectare site will have easy access to the metro. The project itself is mixed-use -- featuring a 20,000-square-meter, four-star, internationally branded hotel with 200 to 300 hotel rooms, a 20,000-square-meter retail center, Class -B office space and a 19,000-square-meter "edutainment" center complete with a bowling alley, an arcade, a movie theater and bars.

Marine Gardens is hoping to open the facility in 2011 or 2012 and expects to draw 4 million visitors in the first year and 2 million to 2.5 million visitors after that.

The aquarium will feature about 12 post-Soviet "climatic zones" -- ranging from harbor and shipwreck displays to the oil-rig littered Caspian Sea and the barge-blocked Volga River. It will also include some less industrial landscapes, like Lake Baikal and Africa's Rift Valley, a shark theater and a petting pool.

With demand high and pockets running deep in Moscow, an aquarium seems like it should have been built long ago.

In 2001, a former company official returned from a trip to China, where she had visited a number of aquariums, with the idea of setting one up in Moscow. She also worked at the aquarium in Astana, Kazakhstan, and became convinced that the plan was feasible.

"It could be very successful because there are no other entertainment facilities on this scale," said Natalya Oreshina, the director of the retail department at Cushman & Wakefield Stiles and Riabokobylko.

"The aquarium is a complementary factor for the retail and hotel property," Oreshina said.

"It looks very fancy architecturally. I think it will attract lots of people since it is located near tourist destinations," she said.

Courtesy of Marine Gardens
A rendition of the proposed Caspian Sea section, complete with oil rigs.
Jeff Kershaw, director of the retail department at CB Richard Ellis Noble Gibbons, also said he saw a lot of potential for the facility.

"The [Moscow] location, when fully developed, will be highly attractive for all types of visitors, and I expect that it will be a very convenient and attractive place to hold business meetings," Kershaw said.

"I think it is an ambitious project for the city and am sure that it will be highly successful," he said.

Even small aquariums in Moscow -- and there are only two -- get a steady stream of visitors.

"We get 1,000 to 2,000 visitors a day on the weekend," said Pavel, a worker at the Chistiye Prudy Aquarium, a small but very popular destination in the center of Moscow that claims only four small sharks and some tropical fish.

The project is garnering attention from educators, too.

"Of course I will go," said Alexander Kasumyan, a professor of ichthyology at Moscow State University.

"It will be very interesting. I will definitely bring my students. I don't know why they didn't build one before," he said. "The most interesting thing for me will be the diversity of life," said Kasumyan, a specialist in the sensory systems of fish.

"It will be interesting to see the exotic fish that we only see in books and on television," he said.

All the praise and glowing predictions aside, problems and questions remain.

"The big question is when it is going to be completed," said Oreshina, of Cushman & Wakefield.

"It could be the first project in Moscow to have such interesting and unusual features if it is built by 2010. But it needs to be built sooner rather than later. Obviously, lots of people have an idea to do something similar," Oreshina said.

Although the company predicts that the aquarium -- which is being constructed by Kay Elliott Architects, a British firm that specializes in them -- will be completed next year, the entire facility will be opened only when all construction is finished in 2011 or 2012, Kurilovich said.

But with support from the Mayor's Office and plenty of interest from potential visitors, acquiring the aquarium's main attractions and keeping them alive could be the toughest challenge.

"It is difficult to keep clean water and to get legal fish," said Natalya Istratova, a biologist and public relations representative at the Moscow Zoo, which has four small sharks and a few other tanks.

"It is difficult to find legal fish, and I suppose the new aquarium will face the same problem," Istratova said. "Also, Moscow is far from the sea and it is hard to transport them."

Kurilovich said the aquarium would only use legal fish sources.

"This is a big project, and we will only use reputable companies to provide sea life," she said.

Istratova also said that keeping the water clean was difficult.

"The water has to be biologically, mechanically and chemically cleaned," Istratova said.

Also, to turn more than 10 million liters of fresh water into salt water, around 350,000 kilograms of salt and other chemicals will have to be added and dissolved.

A further problem is the lack of trained aquarium staff in Russia.

"We are planning to find some staff from foreign countries who would be able to train our Russian staff," Kurilovich said.