Manhattan Beach city officials and residents got their first glimpse this week of the $2.5 million renovation planned next year for the iconic Roundhouse Aquarium at the end of the city pier.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the City Council gave a unanimous thumbs up to designs for the octagonal aquarium — a project made possible thanks to a $1.2 million donation from a foundation started by Skechers President Michael Greenberg.
But there’s still major fundraising ahead.
“This is really an extraordinary project .... It’s something our community can be very proud of,” Mayor David Lesser said. “Thank you so much to the Greenberg family for turning something that started with tragedy into something that everyone can enjoy.”
The city agreed to fund $150,000 in improvements for the pier and make a $100,000 in-kind contribution, according to City Engineer Prem Kumar.
Lesser added the improvements would better support the Oceanography and Teaching Stations’ mission, a nonprofit that leases the Roundhouse from the city. The nonprofit runs the aquarium and offers educational programs for children throughout L.A. County.
Greenberg, a Manhattan Beach resident, committed his donation in March 2016, in his son’s memory through the Harrison Greenberg Foundation. It was to fund an interior restoration and redesign of the Roundhouse. Greenberg, whose son died in a choking accident in Thailand in 2015, also committed to raising an additional $1 million through fundraising to help fund the project.
“My vision was not to just simply go in there and do some patch work. It was really to bring a beautiful new aquarium in a small footprint to the city of Manhattan Beach,” Greenberg said.
Greenberg added that he’s committed to a 10-year pledge with OTS, as well as plans to start an endowment to raise funding that will be pledged to OTS.
During a presentation Tuesday night, Peter Sollogub, associate principal with Cambridge Seven Associates, went through various design elements, which include moving the entrance of the Roundhouse from the south side of the building to the east side so that it faces the pier.
“Coming in from the city, coming in from the east, you’ll be flanked by these large monitors that are really going to allow you to explore and see some of the creatures that are in the water below you and the Pacific beyond you. It will take you to places the aquarium can’t go,” Sollogub explained.
In addition to the multimedia area, there will also be a touch tank, a shark tank, a teaching area and two restrooms on the aquarium's ground floor, Sollogub said. A jellyfish tank built into the mezzanine will be visible both from the ground floor and mezzanine level. Sollogub described the mezzanine as a “place of discovery” that will feature tanks and educational activities.
The ceiling will be covered with a deep blue fabric decorated with marine animals.
“It's very lightweight. It’s made to be in a marine environment,” Sollogub said, holding a sample of the fabric above his head. “What it does is it provides acoustics for the entire aquarium. At the same time, it gives it a nice sky. It gives it an ocean heaven if you will. So these creatures, this blue sky of water, goes everywhere through the entire aquarium.”
OTS Board President John Roberts praised the project.
“We’re very excited about this plan. When we came into this, one of the things we had as our highest priority was to be able to maintain our teaching programs,” Roberts said. “We see in the design our ability to carry out our teaching programs is actually enhanced.”
Kumar noted elements of the exterior that would be addressed by the city, while assuring the exterior of the building, which has stood at the end of the pier for nearly a century, would not be changed.
“There needs to be repair to the stucco. We need to paint the exterior of the building. All of the exterior doors, shutters and hardware is showing deterioration and aging and needs to be replaced,” Kumar explained.
He added that a roof also is needed. Additionally, fish cleaning stations will be installed.
Kumar assured council members that the project's construction would not interfere with the city’s annual holiday celebrations on the pier. The pier will be closed during the five-month construction period from January to May 2018. During that time, there will be a temporary aquarium housed at the lower parking lot on the south side. The project is expected to be complete in June 2018.