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Dolphin Research Center Completes 10-Year Master Plan with PGAV Destinations


Top Florida destination to enhance Welcome Center and facilities to accommodate stellar growth.

PGAV Destinations is proud to announce the completion of a 10-year Master Plan in association with Dolphin Research Center (DRC) on Grassy Key, Florida.

DRC was founded as a nonprofit nearly 30 years ago, and today stands as a world leader in marine mammal care, research, and education as they welcome more than 70, 000 visitors per year. As DRC continues its successful track record of growth and progress, the organization hired St. Louis-based design firm PGAV Destinations to help steer a 10-year master plan to facilitate that growth with new capacity and teaching opportunities.

“We knew we were growing and felt that [we] had come to the point where it was time to bring in professionals and help us plan our future, ” said Rita Irwin, president and CEO of DRC on 

Dolphin Research Center Completes 10-Year Master Plan with PGAV Destinations

The master plan recognizes the strength of the existing dolphin programs and focuses improvements on the guest facilities, elevating DRC’s unique message and stories and the powerful, personal impact that guests experience. The first phase of the master plan will be a renovation and expansion of the Welcome Center. Other aspects ensure authenticity and aesthetic consistency throughout the facility by leveraging the destination’s location, storied history, and depth of research.

“For many people, the DRC is truly a tremendous, life-changing place, ” says John Kemper, PGAV Destinations VP and project lead. “The research DRC conducts is invaluable to the science and animal husbandry communities – and the guests who come and interact with the dolphins are really touched – there are plenty that go through a kind of epiphany and change their outlook and actions based on that experience. We want to ensure that the entire facility has the infrastructure and amenities to deliver that power and experience for many years to come.”

The Welcome Center will undergo an operational transition, relocating admissions and retail so that each is more effective, enhancing beautiful graphics, and adding interpretive exhibits and easy to read signage that deliver DRC’s history, mission, research, and on-site information.

Other aspects of the master plan outline the steps for helping the center operate more efficiently, including an observation station to introduce the dolphins as individuals to the guests, and present a beautiful, incredible view of the dolphins’ habitat. 

PGAV Destinations’ previous dolphin projects include work for the Indianapolis Zoo, Georgia Aquarium, Discovery Cove, and SeaWorld properties including Orlando, San Diego, San Antonio, and Aquatica Orlando.

Dolphin Research Center Completes 10-Year Master Plan with PGAV Destinations

About PGAV Destinations

PGAV Destinations is a global leader in the planning and design of unique destinations. Now in its fifth decade, the practice has evolved to become the ideal destination-consulting partner, skilled at developing growth-oriented master plans and translating those plans into successful projects. No other firm offers such an integrated approach to destination planning.  

PGAV’s key clients include industry leaders such as SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, Universal Studios, the Biltmore Companies, Bass Pro Shops, Ameristar Casinos, The Gettysburg Foundation, the St. Louis Zoo, Chimelong Ocean Kingdom, and many others. Recent assignments include planning and design at many of the world’s “must see” destinations, including the Grand Canyon, Biltmore Estate, Hearst Castle, the Georgia Aquarium, the Hoover Dam, and SeaWorld Adventure Parks.

About Dolphin Research Center

Dolphin Research Center (DRC) was founded as a nonprofit corporation in 1984 by Jayne Shannon-Rodriguez and Armando "Mandy" Rodriguez. Their goal was to ensure the dolphins had a home there for life, and in doing so to establish a unique education and research facility. DRC’s mission is “through education, research and rescue, Dolphin Research Center promotes peaceful coexistence, cooperation and communication between marine mammals, humans and the environment we share with the well-being of DRC’s animals taking precedence.”

The Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions presently living at DRC provide a range of personalities and backgrounds. Some were born there; others came to DRC from separate facilities for various reasons or were already living there when Jayne and Mandy began managing the center. Over half of our family was born at the Center, while the other members have either come from other facilities or were rescued, rehabilitated, deemed unreleasable back into the wild by the Government and now have a forever home at Dolphin Research Center.

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