Sea World With Disney Twist : Huntington Beach Studies Plans for Cousteau Center

United Press International

A high-tech aquatic center blending the flavor of Disneyland with the work of international marine explorer Jacques Cousteau is on the drawing boards in Orange County.

The center, proposed for an oceanfront site in Huntington Beach, would feature films, special effects creating underwater illusions, replicas of ocean flora and fauna, and possibly an amusement park-type ride.

"I think it could be right up there with Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm," Huntington Beach Councilman Peter Green said. "When you think of how much of the ocean has been destroyed, this will be a great way to educate people about saving sea and marine life."

Cousteau Society Proposal

The Cousteau Society, which has proposed the center, cautions against making too close a comparison to other theme parks, saying the ocean center would be much smaller and would focus on education and environmental awareness.

"There won't be any Ferris wheels or roller coasters," said Charles Vinick, society vice president for business affairs, in a telephone interview from the group's headquarters in Norfolk, Va.

Because the Cousteau Society opposes the captivity of aquatic life, there will be no exhibits using marine mammals and few, if any, fish aquariums.

Still, the center might be fun.

"We feel we can create a very exciting exhibition using other ways," Vinick said. "We're doing a different thing."

Blue Whale Model

One possible exhibit is a life-sized model of a 90-foot blue whale designed for internal walking tours to see organs pounding, blood pumping through veins and a tongue the size of an entire elephant.

Visitors may also be able to track Cousteau's ship, Calypso, through computers, satellites and maps. An open-air exhibit overlooking the Pacific Coast may also be included.

The Cousteau center, a first for the West Coast, would be co-designed by former 20-year veteran Disney designer Roland Crump, known for his work on the popular Magic Kingdom attractions "It's a Small World" and the "Haunted House," among others.

Crump has been hired by the society to help design two other centers already approved for Norfolk and Paris, due to open in the spring of 1988, Vinick said.

Marketing Study

The exhibit proposed for Huntington Beach is still in the tentative planning stages, with the City Council having approved a $20,000 marketing study by the Cousteau Society.

The purpose of the tourist center would be to educate visitors about life in the world's oceans, rivers and lakes while sensitizing them to the environment, society officials said.

"We have a following of hundreds of millions of people throughout the world through our television series on Capt. Cousteau, and this would be a way of reaching those people in more depth about the environment and his work," Vinick said.

The marketing study for the Huntington Beach center, due to be completed in February, will look at the cost of the center, size options, potential attendance and funding availability.

Comparable to Norfolk

No estimate is available on the cost of the project, but it would probably be similar to the $20-million, 100,000-square-foot center in Norfolk.

Huntington Beach officials hope the center will work into their master plan to revitalize the beachfront near the city pier, much as the popular Monterey Aquarium has done for that city.

The Cousteau Society, a nonprofit group with nearly 200,000 members who support the expeditions and television specials of the 75-year-old French explorer and environmentalist, will not pay for the centers or take any profits, Vinick said.

The marketing study will show ways the city and the Cousteau group could raise the needed money.

The environmental group has also considered an alternate West Coast site near Laguna Hills in Orange County or San Diego, though no formal study has been authorized in either case.

Cousteau officials would like to build between seven and 10 centers worldwide in the next decade, all designed by Cousteau's son, Jean-Michel, 47.

Some of the centers, like the one in Paris, may be built along rivers to spotlight non-ocean aquatic life, Vinick said.

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