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Interest shown in empty Dolphinaris Arizona building, but no bites yet

KNXV Dolphinaris Aerial View
KNXV Dolphinaris Arizona Dolphin in Pool 2.png
Posted at 1:47 PM, Jan 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-28 16:23:14-05

SALT RIVER PIMA-MARICOPA INDIAN COMMUNITY, AZ — February will mark three years since Dolphinaris Arizona — an attraction that let people swim and pose with bottlenose dolphins — closed after concerns were raised following the deaths of four of its eight dolphins. The four remaining dolphins were sent to an ocean-side attraction in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The four dolphins — Ping, Noe, Liko, and Sonny — joined Coral World Ocean Park in Saint Thomas, which offers similar dolphin experiences. Instead of a pool, the dolphins live in an enclosed in-ocean habitat.

Recent photos on Coral World's social media accounts showed Sonny jumping in the air and playing with a ball, and Ping playing with a hula hoop.

In a Friday email, Lee Kellar, general curator at Coral World, said all four Arizona dolphins "are doing great."

In May, two more dolphins — Nola and Cavello — arrived at Coral World, he said.

"They are all interacting as a normal dolphin group and we are very happy with their progress," Keller said.

Shortly after Dolphinaris Arizona closed in 2019, management of Odysea in the Desert (now called Arizona Boardwalk) told news outlets that Ventura Entertainment, the Mexico-based company behind Dolphinaris, had intentions of opening a new attraction without live animals.

Three years later — two of which were during an ongoing pandemic — the Dolphinaris Arizona building, which overlooks the Loop 101 freeway, remains largely vacant and no announcements about its potential future have been made.

ABC15 has been told that Ventura Entertainment built the building that housed Dolphinaris Arizona, while the other buildings at the complex are owned by Arizona Boardwalk management.

Messages to Ventura Entertainment over the years have not been returned, including one sent this week.

Management at Arizona Boardwalk have declined to answer basic questions about the status of the building, such as who currently owns it, who's maintaining it, or how large the building is.

In a recent email to ABC15, Ran Knishinsky, a managing partner at Arizona Boardwalk did not answer a list of questions and instead, touted the venue as a premier destination for shopping, dining, and entertainment. He did confirm, however, that there has been apparent outside interest in the space, but did not provide specifics.

"As we look to expand our entertainment offerings, we have fielded interest from several local and national companies regarding the former Dolphinaris building," he wrote. "At this time, I have nothing to announce about what will fill that space."

Representatives for the Talking Stick Entertainment District, which is part of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and includes Arizona Boardwalk, Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, Great Wolf Lodge, Medieval Times and a host of other entertainment attractions, also declined to comment.

Plans were also announced in 2019 to build a 155-room Hyatt Place hotel north of Arizona Boardwalk. Construction on that project has not begun. The current status is unknown.

Another project that has yet to begin is "Paradise Earth," which is advertised to be the "largest indoor rainforest in North America" and would feature thousands of birds and primates. At one point, brochures listed the anticipated timeframe for 2020, but construction on that project has not begun either.

Arizona Boardwalk is home to a number of attractions, including Odysea Aquarium, Pangea: Land of Dinosaurs, VR Extreme, Surprise Your Eyes, and The Science of Ripley's Believe it or Not, a traveling exhibition. All were open during the pandemic.

Polar Play Ice Bar, a small attraction that let people put on winter coats, hats, and gloves and sit in an ice room with chairs, chess, and animals carved out of ice, closed and has not reopened.