The 1,300-acre Blake Farm in Scotts Hill in Pender County touts itself as a “master planned community with amenities that everyone is talking about.”
Everyone was certainly talking about it last October, when a budget and agency technical corrections bill introduced a last-minute, one-time and frankly, inexplicable $300,000 appropriation for another state aquarium just 78 miles from the one in Pine Knoll Shores and 57 from another in Kure Beach. A third state aquarium at Roanoke Island is 200 miles north, and a fourth at Jeanettes Pier is at Nags Head.
The Department of Natural and Cultural Resources said it did not request the funding.
The three finalists are HH Architecture, headquartered in Raleigh; Bowman, Murray, Hemingway in Wilmington; and Lindsey Architecture based in Greensboro.
The development is being constructed by the Trask Land Company, owned by Raiford Trask III, a campaign contributor primarily to Republican candidates. Trask has said that the shellfish and research would be the focus of the Blake Farm aquarium.
DNCR is in charge of requesting, evaluating and awarding contracts for the aquarium portion. It’s unclear how the department will finance occupancy and operations of the aquarium. This year’s budget contained $100,000 to repair the roof on the Fort Fisher Aquarium, but that was the only aquarium-related appropriation.
According to bid documents, HH Architecture has built a polar bear exhibit at the NC Zoo, in addition to nature centers, the NC State Dairy Museum and formulating park master plans. Bowman, Murray, Hemingway designed additions and renovations to the aquariums at Fort Fisher, Roanoke Island and Pine Knoll Shores. And Lindsey Architecture oversaw the “SciQuarium” at the Greensboro Science Center.
DNCR is expected to announce the winning firm later this summer.