VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — New exhibit space, new animals and a new way to enter the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center are all part of initial plans to expand the longtime attraction at the Oceanfront.

In November, aquarium staff finalized their master plan that lays out a five-phase approach that would ultimately more than double the main building’s size.

Cynthia Whitbred-Spanoulis, the aquarium’s president and CEO, said their goal is to not only replace exhibits that have reached the end of their useful life, but also ensure there are new incentives for guests to return year after year.

Initially named the Virginia Marine Science Museum, the main building first opened off General Booth Boulevard in 1986 as a collaboration between the City of Virginia Beach and the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center Foundation.

It began as a small attraction in the resort city.

Since then, it has expanded and seen millions and millions of visitors.

According to Spanoulis, it is the third most visited ticketed attraction in the Commonwealth behind Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Kings Dominion. And it’s the most visited attraction in Virginia Beach, after the beach.

The wear and tear is starting to show.

“The seal exhibit, if you came this summer, it was down for repairs, if you came this summer our ray touch pool was already down for repairs,” said Spanoulis.

Instead of repairing exhibits, she’s hoping to build new ones.

“We’re looking at expanding our footprint by about 116%,” she told WAVY.

Future plans include a new seal tank, shark tank and one for the turtles.

Much of it would be build on the current parking lot.

Last week, Spanoulis went before Virginia Beach City Council to ask for $3.7 million to start. She says that money would help fund planning for a new parking garage and skywalk over General Booth Boulevard.

The entire project would likely cost as much as $250 million. The cost of doing nothing means eventually having to move some of the attraction’s creatures elsewhere.

“We would basically lose our animal population,” said Spanoulis.

The entire expansion could take the better half of ten years. Mayor Bobby Dyer says they are looking at this idea favorably, as it it a jewel to the resort city.

WAVY will keep you updated with project developments.