The Georgia Aquarium including the Dolphin Expansion, Sea Lion Exhibit, and Predator Exhibit

Atlanta, Georgia

The Georgia Aquarium, Inc.

Project Size:
628,140 sq ft


ENR Southeast Best Project in Sports/Entertainment (Sea Lion Exhibit)

ABC Excellence in Construction Award

AGC Build Georgia Award

Phoenix Award

Pinnacle Award

Southeast Construction Best Overall Project (Dolphin Expansion)

ABC of Georgia Award of Excellence (Sea Lion Exhibit)

The Georgia Aquarium, located at the World of Coca-Cola complex in downtown Atlanta, was the largest aquarium in the world at the time of construction. This three-story, 440,000 sq ft facility holds more than 8 million gallons of fresh and salt water. It includes veterinary services; a water testing/monitoring laboratory; a Wolfgang Puck catering kitchen; a grand ballroom with floor-to-ceiling tank views; a food court; a 4-D theater; conservation, research, and educational areas; animal quarantine and receiving facilities; and a 1,650-space parking deck. Designed to create the ultimate guest experience, the Georgia Aquarium features 114,000 sq ft of exhibit space, including adult and child interactive opportunities, artificial rock work, theming, props, and fiberglass and acrylic tanks. More than 100,000 aquatic animals representing over 500 species from around the world are on display at the aquarium.

The initial Georgia Aquarium project included 47 exhibits consisting of small, complex interior build-out work. To manage the work most efficiently and cost-effectively, we opted to have the exhibit build-out contractors bid each exhibit area separately. This process provided more competitive pricing and gave us the ability to select and assign work to the best-qualified contractor for each space. It also allowed smaller exhibit contractors, who could not have handled the entire exhibit scope, to participate and prevented a single exhibit contractor from being overloaded with too many areas at once.

For the aquarium to open on schedule, our team devised a plan to phase owner turnover, allowing facility staff to move into and familiarize themselves with areas of the facility one step at a time. We divided the aquarium into 17 different areas, turning the first over in March 2005, nearly seven months prior to the required completion date. As we progressed, we acquired Temporary Certificates of Occupancy (TCOs) from the City and continued to turn over areas to the aquarium staff one at a time, allowing them to prepare along the way.

After completing the Georgia Aquarium in 2005, we were contracted in September 2008 to complete a new 80,000 sq ft expansion that is home to bottlenose dolphins. The new space is nearly the size of two football fields and features a 1.8 million-gallon exhibit to accommodate up to 11 dolphins, viewing windows, and stadium seating for dolphin shows. After completion of this expansion, the aquarium’s total water capacity now exceeds 10 million gallons.

Our team self-performed all of the structural concrete on the project, initially placing over 100,000 cubic yards of concrete and then adding 30,000 cubic yards to complete the dolphin expansion. By self-performing, we were able to maintain the budget on the fast-track delivery, beat the overall schedule, and provide the aquarium more than ample time needed to prepare for Opening Day.

In 2015, our team completed demolition on the Georgia Explorer Gallery, one of the aquarium’s original exhibits. Once demolition was complete, a 25,295 sq ft sea lion show exhibit including a 585-seat theater was constructed. The project also included demolition of existing tanks in the west holding area and 4,473 sq ft construction of four concrete tanks to serve as the permanent overnight home for the sea lions. The 4,464 sq ft existing north basement level was also renovated to include temporary protection, demolition, concrete, masonry, miscellaneous steel, doors, Stonhard flooring, painting, FRP, plumbing, fire suppression systems, mechanical systems, and electrical systems.

The newest expansion of the Georgia Aquarium, the Predator Exhibit, will change the face of the Georgia Aquarium by adding a new four-level structure that will tie in to the iconic boat on the Georgia Aquarium’s south elevation. The focal point of the expansion is a new 1 million gallon Shark Exhibit. The exhibit will be interactive and immersive with a focus on expansive acrylic viewing areas and a cage-diving program. In addition to the new exhibit, the expansion will include a new entrance and exit as well as new office spaces, retail spaces, and a loading dock.