Design works have commenced for Cairns’ new $50 million Aquarium and Reef Research Centre after a parking space issue which threatened to stall the project was resolved by the developers this week.

The project was initially approved by the Cairns Regional Council in February, although not without a catch that could have sunk the project altogether – a lack of car parking spots. Council subsequently ordered the developers, Cairns Aquarium & Reef Research Centre Pty Ltd, to find space for 114 car parks, or pay the council more than $3 million for the shortfall.

Cairns Aquarium chief executive and co-founder Daniel Leipnik has said that building car parking on the site, most of which is dedicated to the attraction, was not an option.

“No other aquarium in the country has parking on-site,” Leipnik was previously reported as saying in The Cairns Post.

"We believe that the council has a responsibility to provide parking. We're providing a major attraction and creating a lot of jobs and additional reasons for people to come to Cairns, so we feel like we're doing our bit to bolster the economy."

However, the Australian Financial Review says that an agreement has been reached. The developers will rent council parking lot spaces, as well as look into leasing space in and around the nearby Cairns central business district.

Plans for the aquarium have so far been well-received by government, the business community and the public, who see the project as a ‘tourism drawcard’ and a means of revitalising the city and Far North Queensland.

“The arrival of this project is timely and deemed to be of great value to the region’s emerging Chinese market. We also feel proud of the fact that The Cairns Aquarium was the first major tourism infrastructure project to receive Commonwealth Government Assistance for its start up phase,” said Dr Allan Dale, Chairman of The Cairns Aquarium and Regional Development Australia (RDA) FNQ&TS.

“This is great for our region and proves Far North Queensland’s voice is being heard loud and clear in Canberra.”

The three-storey, 10,000sqm landmark attraction will be designed by Peddle Thorp Architects in association with Architects Ellick and Partners, and will showcase more than 5,000 animals, plants and fish endemic to the Great Barrier Reef and surrounding Wet Tropics Rainforests.

The exterior walls are made up of a series of giant ‘tectonic’ plates which symbolise the movement of the earth over time, leading to the creation of the Far North’s tree-covered mountains and the Great Barrier Reef.

Glass panels along the length of the building allow light to penetrate and provide glimpses of the ecosystem within. Visitors are also greeted by an 18x11.5 metre blue glass atrium entrance angled onto the street, a call out to the Coral Sea ocean view.

Some of the planned attractions include a two million litre ‘Oceanarium’ exhibit, which will be home to Australia’s only school of scalloped hammerhead sharks, and a ‘River Monsters’ exhibit, which will house the highly endangered freshwater Sawfish and form part of a dedicated research program to breed and re-populate the species.

Located on Florence Street, the aquarium is slated to open in 2016, and will attract more than 500,000 visitors a year. The design stage will cost $1.1 million and draw from over 100 full-time staff from 15 companies specialising in building, engineering and aquatic services.

A website,, has been set up to detail the elements of the project, and allow enthusiasts to get an early feel for the experiences that will be on offer as the project develops.